Reading NBC's beak: The peacock is not for sale TURNED ON IN LA. -- Fall Preview

July 21, 1993|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

LOS ANGELES -- NBC President Bob Wright is doing his best to spike reports that NBC is about to be sold to Bill Cosby and Robert Wussler, a former executive at CBS and Turner Network. "I can tell you it's a story without any activity behind it," Wright said yesterday, standing at a press conference podium flanked by For Sale signs with red lines drawn through them.

"We're flattered that so many people want to be associated with NBC in one form or another, but this story simply doesn't track with any substance."

Wright denies categorically that NBC, the network in last place among the Big Three, is about to be sold to anyone.

While Wright is firm in denying the for-sale reports, he is downright combative when talking about TV violence and the plan to put warning labels on violent shows.

Unlike CBS executives who declare that TV plays a role in fostering real-life violence and say that they will change the kinds of show they broadcast, Wright lashed out at Congress yesterday and depicted TV as the victim of grandstanding politicians.

"This is a no-brainer for Congress," Wright said. "Yes it's worthwhile to talk about this. Yes, it's important.

"But, for Congress, this doesn't cost anything. They don't have to put up any money for this. This isn't like solving the federal prison crisis. This isn't like dealing with law enforcement . . . or a budget issue.

"This is a no-brainer from the congressional standpoint, because they just go to the networks and say, "Here, you guys do this, and we've done our part.' "Conan's 'complete unknown'

NBC has been promoting 30-year-old Conan O'Brien as the "voice of a new generation" since May when he was named to replace David Letterman. But O'Brien is trying to play down those kinds of huge expectations, as he readies "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" for its premiere on Sept. 13.

"I think it's possible to get too cerebral about this," O'Brien says.

"It's my intention to show up and try to do a good show. Anything after that is gravy.

"The fact that I'm 30 and young to be doing this has made many people think I'm the voice for a new generation. I may be, I don't know, but that's something viewers will decide.

"Being 30 years old and having the sense of humor I have, maybe that will attract people in their twenties who are disenfranchised or whatever . . . I don't know."

O'Brien admits that he's feeling some nervousness about his debut.

"I would be lying to you if I said there weren't times when I wonder what the hell I have done, what have I got myself into, am I going to be able to do this," he says.

"It is a complete unknown. I've never done anything like this in my life. I've performed. I've made people laugh. I've thought a lot about comedy. But this is unlike anything I've ever tried.

"At times, that is sobering. But, overall, there's a feeling I have inside that I can do it. Yeah, the odds might be a little stacked against me. But I feel I can do it. I feel I'm ready to do it. That gets me through those periods of doubt."

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