Bell's experience producing four hours of live television each day at the "Today" show was key to his selection replacing Ebersol in the control room, Lazarus said. Bell also has an Olympics pedigree: His first NBC job out of college was pushing the wheelchair of a temporarily disabled NBC executive around Barcelona for meetings two years before the 1992 Olympics there.
"Today" might be one of the best jobs to teach a TV executive the need to meticulously plan for a broadcast, yet also understand when the situation calls for throwing those plans out the window.
NBC Olympics executives, most of whom owe Ebersol for their jobs, see no reason to change what has been a successful formula. As a consultant, Ebersol is offering frequent advice to Lazarus, Zenkel and Bell and will be in London.
"They found a formula and I'd be stunned if they moved away from it too much," Billings said.
There will be several changes on NBC's cable menu. For the network itself, Ryan Seacrest and John McEnroe are being added to the mix to contribute feature stories.
Since its acquisition by Comcast Corp., NBC Universal has renamed the Versus cable channel the NBC Sports Network, and it will take much of the Olympics programming that in recent games has been seen on USA. A successful entertainment network, USA will stick with entertainment.
The NBC Sports Network will average 14 hours a day of coverage, focusing on team sports like the U.S. men's basketball team's pursuit of gold.
CNBC, as it has in the past, will air boxing when the financial markets are closed. Bravo will telecast tennis. MSNBC is turning its daytime hours over to the Olympics, airing 20 sports from badminton to wrestling. The Spanish-language Telemundo, heavy on soccer and boxing in past games, will offer more hours of Olympics coverage and show a greater variety of sports.
Despite the hours and attention, Lazarus anticipates the games will not be profitable for NBC. The Olympics under Ebersol made money until 2010, when the Vancouver Winter Games lost an estimated $223 million.
The network paid $1.18 billion for the rights to telecast the London Olympics, but Lazarus said that isn't driving the main cost concerns.
"The cost of doing business in London was more than anybody anticipated," he said. "We will have 2,700 people there. That comes with a price."
The value of the games cannot be measured simply by looking at the costs and profits of the competition, he said. It's expected the Olympics will provide a boost for the "Today" show, "NBC Nightly News" and Jimmy Fallon's late-night broadcast, as well as publicize the network's fall offerings, he said.
With NBC's prime-time lineup on a long, slow slide toward irrelevancy, there's value to the brand in being the center of television for a couple of weeks.
"We will look at it certainly as a success," Lazarus said, "assuming we don't fall off a cliff."
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