On a prime-time news magazine for NBC: After 10 successive failures at producing a prime-time magazine show, NBC News wants to try again, this time with the stuffily titled "American Almanac," anchored by Roger Mudd, premiering Tuesday, Aug. 6, at 10 p.m. With prime time on such a roll, Brandon Tartikoff is asked if he really truly welcomes the presence of a weekly news hour that is bound to get low ratings itself and probably infect the shows around it. "Where's the polygraph machine?" he asks, smiling guiltily. "No, really, in my heart of hearts, I would love to have a '60 Minutes,' or even a '20/20,' on the airwaves.
"I'm a ratingsmonger, as bad as anybody you've ever known, and I know this show is not going to open with a 40 share. It's probably going to have slow going. But I'll tell you what I said to Roger Mudd. I said I don't want to be Roger Maris; I don't want there to be an asterisk next to my name in the record books to say, 'Well, he did it without a news hour. Everybody else had a news hour, and that's how they won.' And believe me, somebody at CBS is already working on that."
On how ABC stole third place: "The tactical error was that, in the end, they didn't try anything new. They only had tried what were versions of stuff that had worked for them. They had no chance anywhere on their schedule for a big hit. Everything was derivative."
On NBC's image: "Once, CBS stood for class. Somehow they let that mantle get away. They let the people who brought them that mantle get away, the nucleus of people who gave it a patina of class; they let go of that. ABC in the mid-'70s was the hot rock 'n' roll television place. And they let that get away somehow. Right now, we've borrowed both of those mantles. We're the network of yuppies and 9-year-old boys. I'm very protective of that.
"We've been straddling this unique situation in that, at the same time we're the leaders of the industry -- we have been, really, since we started winning the Emmys, and we've been winning the Emmys for four years -- we're also the underdog. This is a unique moment, one that will all change, of course, if we beat CBS."
On the state of television: "I would say that on any given night, there's at least one good thing you can watch on television. I think that's a lot, given how well the other media are doing. I mean, just prior to 'Prizzi's Honor' coming out, I had three free weekends -- which is like a dream for myself -- and there really wasn't one movie that I wanted to go to see. Only 'Rambo,' and I wasn't going to that as a great student of the cinema. That was for, you know, release. There wasn't a great movie out there for me to watch on an intellectual level that was anything but insulting or demeaning or whatever."