Q: NBC used to be the channel to watch: Seinfeld. Friends. Frasier. Now itís in last place among the big four in prime time and everything is riding on . . . Howie Mandel?!
A: Well, not everything. But thatís funny. Look, I think the best ideas are the simplest ones. And Deal or No Deal, which Howie hosts and is a huge hit, is not complicated. Itís not hard to figure out. And itís impossible to stop watching.
Q: Yeah, but just think about this with me for a minute: Howie Mandel?
A: I was a little nervous at first. Howie hadnít done anything like this, hadnít been on national television for a long time, hadnít been front-of-mind for a long time. He had been doing stand-up. You kind of werenít so sure about it. But he turned out to be the perfect choice, the perfect host. It must be the clean-shaven head, and his penchant for long-legged women with suitcases. You know, success comes from the strangest places.
Q: So when does the screaming start around here?
A: We save the yelling for the afternoonóno, really, Iím not like that. I like to be encouraging. I like to support and reassure. Iím not a screamer. Unless Iíve asked someone to do something a few times and it still isnít done.
Q: You used to be Katie Couricís producer at Today. Youíre friends. What did you say when she told you she wanted to jump ship to CBS?
A: I told her that I understood the desire to leave the morning grind, but I also told her that I thought Iíd never have a job as fun as the Today show and I thought that she would miss it incredibly as well, and that it was the greatest use of her talent. But you know, we would never stand in the way of where her heart was.
Q: Is it true youíre being groomed to succeed Bob Wright as head of NBC Universal?
A: I have no idea, and I donít worry about it. Iím just trying to make sure that the television group succeeds. And everything else takes care of itself. Itís not what I think about.
Q: There are critics who say youíre like Teflon, that youíre always failing upward.
A: Look, we work in a business where every move is scrutinized and there is so much ego at stake, and you canít get caught up in it. Most of what is written is gossip and innuendo, not based on fact. You just have to learn to ignore it. If you do a good job and you do what you think is right, then youíre going to be fine.
Q: Do you ever get tired of people like me showing up and asking these questions?
A: No, because for 10 years people like you showed up and talked about how can we sustain being in first place for so long. So you have to take the bad with the good. Right now the TV group is having tremendous success, whether thatís at Telemundo or NBC News or CNBC or our TV stations. But weíre not going to get credit for that success until we fix the most prominent piece of the portfolioóand thatís prime time. But thatís a little bit like saying ďAmerican foreign policy is really greatówe just have this one problem: Iraq.Ē