If NBC Meltdown Is Just a "Soap Opera," Who's the Director?

"We live in a society today that loves a soap opera. Three months ago it was David Letterman, six weeks ago it was Tiger Woods' problems. Today it's NBC's problems."

-- Jeff Zucker in an interview with the New York Times

The story that features this quote was in yesterday's Times; it essentially chronicles NBC's downward spiral, making a lot of the same points that I've made here and at my own site over the past week. What's astounding, though, despite the fact that it shouldn't be at this point, is the level of thickheaded hubris on display in the article from both Jeff Zucker and NBC News's painfully smug president, Steve Capus. Both are so thoroughly detached from reality and unwilling to accept responsibility for the mess NBC is currently in that the only argument they can make is that the entire thing is much ado about nothing. Zucker blames the public for stopping to gawk at the trainwreck while refusing to acknowledge that there is a trainwreck and that he caused it; it would be like shooting someone then blaming that person for getting blood on your carpet and the police for having the temerity to make a big stink about it by arresting you.

Capus's decision to get involved and comment, meanwhile, makes me honestly wonder if he's in immediate need of a little "rest and relaxation," preferably in a place where he can be watched by doctors 24/7. First of all making the transparently opportunistic claim that there are more important things right now for the American public to be paying attention to -- specifically the situation in Haiti -- is a laughable conceit, especially considering the fact that he's saying it to a reporter from the New York Times who's there to cover the NBC story; it takes balls of titanium for an ostensible journalist to imply that news coverage is a zero-sum game and to basically tell another journalist that he's wasting his time and should be off doing something more "important." What makes Capus's horseshit argument even more egregious is that it's coming from Steve Capus, the man who played ethical Twister on national television a couple of years back in an attempt to defend the indefensible -- namely his decision to air excerpts of Virginia Tech killer Seung-Hui Cho's videotaped manifesto, giving Cho the posthumous forum he counted on and rubbing salt in the wounds of the victims' families. Allowing Capus to make a ruling on what is and isn't news is like taking dating advice from Ralph Nader.

And think about this: Steve Capus, a guy who most days is in the business of distracting you with all kinds of ridiculous nonsense, has the chutzpah to suddenly and pompously complain that you're being distracted.

Zucker and Capus can delude themselves all they want; they can dismiss the terrible numbers and the loss of millions in revenue, the resentment from the NBC rank and file and the very public drumbeat calling for change at the highest levels of management; they can ignore the laughter of those who are reveling in a kind of mass Schadenfreude, the jokes of insiders and outsiders like Jon Stewart, who called Zucker "the Cheney of television" because he "(shoots) shows in the face"; they can fiddle their asses off while Rome burns (and if ever there was a "Rome" of television networks, it was NBC). They can pretend that nothing's wrong and that if there is, it's nobody at the top's fault anyway.

Or they can just read the article in the New York Times -- you know, that paper that apparently is just rubbernecking at a soap opera -- and see what network vet Fred Silverman and even Bob Wright, who just a few years ago was doing Zucker's job only infinitely better, have to say about the state of NBC right now.

Guys like Zucker and Capus aren't just asleep at the wheel -- they slept right through the car crash.