NBC to cut broadcast schedule?

How bad is the current recession?  Bad enough for at least one broadcast network to consider cutting hours and days off of its prime-time schedule.  Jeff Zucker, NBC’s CEO, says that all options remain on the table when looking to cut costs:

A terrible fall season at NBC is forcing the network to consider scaling back the number of hours it airs programming, Chief Executive Jeff Zucker told an investor conference Monday.

While NBC will continue to fund the creation of pilots, Zucker told analysts at a media investor conference sponsored by UBS that NBC is considering cutting the number of hours or perhaps even the number of nights it provides programming.

“Can we continue to program 22 hours of prime-time? Three of our competitors don’t. Can we afford to program seven nights a week? One of our competitors doesn’t,” Zucker said. “All of these questions have to be on the table. And we are actively looking at all of those questions.”

Zucker’s comments came after the company last week laid off 500 employees—about 3 percent of its work force of 15,000—as part of a plan to trim $500 million next year.

So what night or hours will NBC kill?  Sundays?  They have NFL football on Sunday nights.  They can’t cut the 10 pm slot either, because they just cut a deal with Jay Leno to move his show to that time to allow Conan O’Brien to take over the Tonight Show.

In a way, Zucker is making a mistake particular to corporate America.  Instead of trying harder to compete, NBC may just retreat and pare back its offerings in an attempt to cut costs rather than raise revenue.  It’s the easier, straightforward solution, but it makes it more difficult for the company to grow back to its former position.

As with all markets, NBC’s loss will be another’s gain.  They’ve already transplanted “Scrubs” to ABC.  Fox may take advantage of a dark night at NBC to further expand its own schedule.  CBS will look to find ways to play an NBC retreat to its advantage with producers and potential execs.  A prime-time liposuction may not make NBC leaner as much as weaker.