The Masked Scheduler is looking back at the scheduling and business decisions that built the Must-See TV lineup on NBC. You can go here to read previous installments.
“Seinfeld” ending and what to do about it became the obsession within the company. Although Warren Littlefield, Don Ohlmeyer and I were in sync as to what to do (and trust me, that was not often the case), everyone had an opinion and advice for us.
As I wrote in the last chapter, our plan was to move “Friends” to the 9 p.m. “Seinfeld” slot and slide “Just Shoot Me” to 8; we had moved it between “Friends” and “Seinfeld” in February 1998. We felt this was the minimal disruption to the schedule. Back in 1998 scheduling still mattered — a lot.
One day in February or March, if my memory serves me, Warren called to tell me that we were going to New York. Jack Welch, the head of GE, wanted to see him and the development executives for an update. Don was also going. I said to Warren, “Well, he didn’t ask for me.”
“Too bad. You’re coming with us,” was his response.
Warren often took me along with him to meetings where big decisions were made. I went down to Florida with him when the Leno/Letterman decision was being made, but that’s a story for another day.
Warren, Don and I flew to New York along with our two top developers, Karey Burke and David Nevins. Jack Welch is an impressive individual. I always enjoyed his visits to Burbank. I also had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with Rupert Murdoch when I segued over to FOX. What Rupert and Jack shared was common sense and no patience for bulls**t. I think those are the two most important characteristics of successful businesspeople.
The other thing about Jack Welch and Bob Wright (NBC’s president and CEO at the time) and the whole GE philosophy which I really appreciated was this notion that you hire the best and you give them all the rope they need to hang themselves. Cancelling the Monday movie at NBC was an example of how GE operated. If I were willing to do the work and convince my management that this was the right move, I would get all the rope I needed.
So, the five of us met with Jack in his office. Welch was the only person to whom Don Ohlmeyer would show deference. Don was a big, imposing guy who enjoyed making his staff uncomfortable, so being in a room with him and Jack was always a hoot for me. Warren, Karey and David walked Jack through the development for the 1998-99 season.
The highlight of the meeting was when Jack took out a little envelope filled with diamonds to show us the result of a process that GE scientists had developed to make authentic diamonds out of coal or something like that. He held tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars in diamonds in his palm and proceeded to sneeze, sending the jewels all over his shag carpet. We had to take time out from the meeting as six high-level executives crawled around Welch’s carpet looking for the diamonds. This is a true story.
After we found all, or at least most, of the diamonds, we got back to the meeting. Jack asked us what the scheduling plan was, and I walked him through it. He then looked at all of us with a very stern gaze and said, “Don’t do anything until you have told me.” That was chilling because neither Jack nor Bob Wright had ever asked to have the final word in our scheduling. Bob would always fly back to New York from Burbank the day before we finished our meetings, just wishing us good luck.
We headed back to LA knowing that this decision was not going to be as simple as we thought. It wasn’t.