NBC faces reality

Following in the footsteps of ABC, CBS and Fox, U.S. broadcaster NBC is developing some reality fare. Though the peacock network comes a little late to the game, the recent hire of former VH1 exec Jeff Gaspin suggests NBC plans to be a serious player.
March 28, 2001

The old adage ‘better late than never’ could be U.S. broadcaster NBC’s slogan when it comes to reality programming. The peacock network has thus far stayed away from the craze for primetime non-fiction, but has finally relented. Jeff Gaspin, the recently named executive VP of alternative series, long-form and program strategy, says, ‘I really want to expose NBC to all the different sub-genres within reality… I hope and expect that by the fall we’ll have upwards of two series on the air in the non-fiction area. If there’s a [Screen Actors Guild] strike , I suspect we’ll have more.’

Gaspin, who officially assumes his position at NBC on April 2, comes from music cablecaster VH1, where he was executive VP of programming and production. While there, Gaspin oversaw reality and non-scripted programs, such as Behind the Music. Now, he says, he plans to put that experience to use. ‘I would like to explore doing behind-the-scenes type programs that would be interesting for NBC viewers and would fit with the NBC brand.’

Gaspin also expresses an interest in developing a reality show about relationships, and notes that NBC already has a challenge/stunt reality program in the works (Fear Factor). ‘I would certainly want to lean towards what I consider quality reality shows, like a Survivor or a Millionaire, as opposed to the tabloid-y reality shows.’ And while Gaspin is keen to put some of his own ideas into play, he says he’s open to outside proposals. ‘We’re going to take a lot of external ideas and try to develop them.’

In the wake of the showdown between CBS’ Survivor II and NBC’s Friends – in which Survivor consistently came out on top – NBC is hoping to hit ratings gold with British format import The Weakest Link. The gameshow hybrid, which starts airing on April 16, will employ sharp-tongued host Anne Robinson from the original series. Says Gaspin, ‘She’s what I would call the anti-host. I don’t think we’ve ever seen a gameshow host like her, and I think that’s going to help the show stand out.’

Despite NBC’s initiatives, it remains to be seen whether the network is jumping on board the reality bandwagon on its way out. Gaspin doesn’t think so. ‘Reality has a place at the table and I suspect that it will grow for a little while, then shrink for a bit. Then we’ll all figure out what the balance is. I don’t think we’re missing the boat. I think [reality] is going to be here for a long time.’

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