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What the Hell Is Wrong With NBC?

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It probably seems like I write quite a bit about NBC and its problems. In fact, I do, and there's a reason for this. I spent a good portion of my career in television news working for NBC, at both the national and local level, and that time with the network always represented one of the proudest accomplishments of my life in the business. It's easy to pick on, say, Fox News over and over again; with the exception of my good friend and former coworker Shep Smith, the place is generally a wasteland of lunacy and nonsense. But I expect more from NBC and always have. I know what the network is capable of, what its reputation has meant, and what those who worked under its banner years ago expected of themselves and the product they created. NBC, as far as I'm concerned -- and I know there are plenty of others who feel the same way and would tell you the same thing -- used to be the top of the heap in broadcasting and to work there was an unqualified honor. That was then, anyway. Now? Now I have no idea what the hell is going on at the network. It'snothing short of shameful to see how far NBC has fallen -- how far it's been allowed to fall by those whose job it is to steward its good name.

I honestly didn't think things could get worse after the disaster that was the tenure of Jeff Zucker, when talentless egomaniac Ben Silverman was allowed to run roughshod over the network's prime time, inept personnel decisions were made that saw Leno moved to 10pm in a cynical money grab and Conan ultimately sent packing, and many of Steve Capus's monumentally unethical news philosophies were backed with the full faith and credit of the peacock. I figured Zucker's reign of terror was about as bad as it could get and when he was gone the network would have nowhere to go but up. Then, of course, came the damn-near sociopathic firing of Ann Curry and the shockwaves felt at Today in the wake of it, a dearth of good programming so pronounced that in the critical February sweeps period NBC dropped to fifth place for the first time in its history, and now this: the decision to run with a jailhouse interview with Penn State child rapist Jerry Sandusky conducted by a proven bullshit artist and conspiracy theorist with a stated agenda and an axe to grind against the mainstream media.

Yesterday, I sat having lunch with my girlfriend and I found myself getting viscerally angry, asking out loud, "What the hell is going on over there?" I genuinely want someone to answer that question. I need to know how a network that was once above-the-board to a fault, that made a point of holding its employees to the highest possible standards in broadcasting, is now seemingly run by people who legitimately have no fucking clue what they're doing. It's as if someone in NBC management is specifically out to destroy 30 Rock from the inside out. That's the only possible conclusion I can draw from a series of decisions so thoroughly incompetent and beyond rational explanation that they couldn't have happened by accident. There's no way fuck-ups this egregious can be simple mistakes. It takes skill to be that dumb.

It's one thing to make a bad move or two, or even to do something that might provoke a negative initial response with the knowledge that bad publicity can still translate into good publicity, but I can't for the life of me figure out what NBC was thinking by going with the Sandusky segment and subsequent interview with John Ziegler. Today is in such shambles right now, as detailed in a lengthy new piece in New York Magazine, the latest to document the show's slide into oblivion, that you'd think the managers running it would be so careful about not pissing off anyone else that they'd treat Today like they were handling a case of nitro glycerine. What they wouldn't do is run a jailhouse one-on-one with one of the most loathed men in America, an unrepentant sexual predator who destroyed the lives of dozens of children, without being able to make a bulletproof argument as to its news value, then, worse, allow a carnival barking defender of that monster and those who protected him the opportunity to grandstand on national television.

The decision to go with the Sandusky segment was mind-boggling in its stupidity. It's not the work of a news or programming manager with even a hint of talent or smarts. It's the work of a monkey. And it's par for the course at NBC these days.

I miss what NBC used to be. I respected the network and its people and was proud to count myself among their ranks. I wouldn't be able to say the same thing were I there right now. Now, the whole place is a bad joke, and I can tell you that no one feels worse about it than those who lived and died by what NBC once stood for.