Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Press tour dispatch: Belzer bashes NBC

If NBC is getting beaten up on PBS' day of press tour -- by one of NBC's own stars, no less -- how bad are things going to get when actual Peacock executives show up at the tour next week?

I arrived late in day one of PBS' day, and therefore missed Ian McKellen suggesting that Gandalf might be gay, but I got here in time for a panel on George Carlin posthumously receiving the Mark Twain Prize, featuring Carlin's daughter Karen, plus comedians Richard Belzer and Lewis Black.

While it was a lively session overall, with Belzer recalling his early impressions of watching Carlin on stage, things slowed towards the end, and a reporter asked the Belz what would happen to his day job on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" now that NBC is preparing to give five hours of primetime a week to Jay Leno.

"Fortunately, 'Special Victims Unit' is the only hit dramatic series left on the big peacock," he said. "So I'm not worried, frankly. We're very lucky to be starting our 10th year. We'll be moving to 9 o'clock, obviously.

"Jay Leno is, of course, going to be on every night, meaning thousands of people will be out of work, actors, producers, writers, wardrobe people. It may be good for comedy in limited way, but it's a terrible, terrible trend for network television to take five hours of primetime... I'm not denigrating Jay or the show. I just think it's a network that is desperate."

After noting that "I'm already signed" to a contract and therefore can say what he wants, Belzer called the Leno move "the last gasp of a dying network that could turn out to be brilliant in terms financially, but in terms of actors and writers and producers, I think it's a tragedy."


Anonymous said...

I'm a little tired of people lamenting all the writers, actors, etc. that will be out of work when Leno takes over 10 pm. Maybe that argument would have worked 20 years ago, but given that we have twice as many broadcast networks and every other cable channel is getting into scripted programming, I don't think anyone will be out of work for long.

Anonymous said...

I <3 you, Richard Belzer.

Anonymous said...

Belzer is just upset there will be fewer cop shows he can appear on as Detective Munch.

...kidding aside, I agree with anonymous that the total number of jobs lost is balanced by the general rise in quantity of television shows. And the losses are more about hypothetical future jobs, since (I believe) the only cancellations would have happened anyways and aren't due to the move; NBC will just order fewer new shows while the Leno plan is in effect. But he's right that it's a desperate move.

Anonymous said...

Bravo, Belz.

Anonymous said...

I love the Belz.

He's the only guy who could get a damn explanation out of David Chase about the end of the Sopranos.

Nicole said...

There may be more cable stations, but there isn't that much original programming on any of them, and those that do have it, have seasons that are at least half as long as network shows and air them on a sporadic basis. For instance, Battlestar Galactica has split its seasons and really only has a total of four full seasons using the 22 episode count. Star Trek and its many versions on syndication had 22 episodes for over 7 seasons (except original trek and enterprise). There is also a lot of reality programming on the networks and cable, so I think Belzer has a valid point. It's not a positive trend for actors who need work, or for writers of non reality shows.

Josh Mauthe said...


That comment just demands more explanation.

Anonymous said...


The post was somewhere else. I'll try to find it.

Anonymous said...

Here it is. Posted by Anon.
"Alan, when are you going to mention that Richard Belzer interview with David Chase!? I am shocked since you're known as the King of all things Sopranos. Here is the relevant excerpt:

Belzer: I was working with Steve Schirripa recently, we were judging 'Last Coming Standing' for NBC and we were talking about a lot of things and he was saying he heard all of these theories for the show that had nothing to do with your intention and wasn’t anything the actors thought, like little hints along the way, like a word, like when Tony and Steve are on the boat at the lake and they say “‘you never know its gonna happen” or “you never know its gonna hit you”…

Chase: That was part of the ending.

Belzer: Oh, it was? see, what do I know? Were there other things in previous episodes that were hints towards it?

Chase: There was that and there was a shooting which Silvio was a witness, well he wasn’t a witness, he was eating dinner with a couple of hookers and with some other guy and there was some visual stuff that went on there which sort of amplified Tony’s remarks to Baccala about you know “you don’t know its happened” or “you won’t know it happened when it hits you”. That’s about it.

Find the interview here:

Happy new year!"
Maybe not a complete explanation but as close as you can possibly get without saying "Tony died."

Anonymous said...

Belzer's right. As someone who works in television, I can tell you that the amount of cable production doesn't begin to compensate for the lost network hours. Cable networks produce fewer series with smaller episode orders. Combine this with the proliferation of reality shows and there are FAR fewer tv jobs than there were even 2 or 3 years ago... and it will likely never be the same. I'm not whining about it... I saw it coming and carved out a nice career for myself I have no agenda other than to report the reality that I see - most of the people I know who work in episodic television are not working due to the residual effect of the strike.. and now this. Belzer speaks the truth.

Anonymous said...

I trust that with such an attitude Belzer was also against the WGA strike and against any SAG strike. After all, both would put out of work a lot of writers and actors, et cetera.

Unknown said...

He (Belzer) then went on to say, "or at least that's what the government wants you to believe."

Anonymous said...

Belzer is great.

Alan, I hope you get to ask Leno if he'll finally hire a more diverse writing staff? Being a late-night show, you could maybe get away with an all-white writing staff. But the move to five nights of prime time means the loss of shows with many diverse casts and diverse writing staffs (black, hispanic, asian.) That means NBC, a supposed NATIONAL broadcasting company, is cutting its representation of these groups down quite a bit.

Remember that during the sitcom boom of the 90s, when every comedian was getting a show, NBC was known as No Black Comics. Do we want to go back to those days? Kevin Eubanks and his bandmates shouldn't be the sole diverse individuals involved in NBC at 10pm (either in front of or behind the camera.)

Danny said...

When can we get Belzer off SVU an onto his own completely Munch-centric PI show?

Anonymous said...

What if NBC moved to a format where they had shared time slots for each show during the regular season, with less than the usual twenty-plus episodes but with (almost) no repeats? Even with Leno taking away five hours of prime time each night, you'd have so much more space to work with. And why not try to program on Saturday nights as well?

I hate to think that I know how to do this better than the guys who are currently doing it, but really, would I or anyone else on this blog do a worse job than people like Ben Silverman? Was their development slate so bare that "Knight Rider" was really the best they had to offer? If so, then we should feel pain for everyone at NBC.

I still just have this nagging feeling that they aren't trying even hard. Who cares if they have a lot of failures each season as long as they get one or two hits? I also can't imagine that there's a lack of people willing to give network television a shot. Are good ideas that hard to come by nowadays?

Anonymous said...

Interesting...I see how the total numbers would be smaller for scripted series, but other than writers, don't reality shows produce the same number of jobs as scripted shows? Even the "contestants" are actors...although a different kind than those scripted shows. I guess the pay is less for some of the jobs. Ultimately, I'm just guessing, so I welcome comments from those in the business. And this is just thinking about jobs, not quality of shows or what's ideal for viewers.

I'll also say that while NBC is desperate, you could definitely argue that the changing economics of the TV business may eventually force even the well-run networks to pare down their programming in some way.

Anonymous said...

With maybe the exception of high-productions shows like The Amazing Race or Survivor, most reality shows have MUCH much smaller crews than scripted shows (not that "reality" shows aren't almost entirely scripted in many cases, but you know what I mean.)

And the crews that do work on them get no overtime, no health benefits, and no money put towards their pensions. Thankfully for the producers, there's a new crop of fresh out of college suckers ready to take the jobs every fall.