On The Wright Track
By Bob Wright; Christine Chen

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Bob Wright has been running NBC for 17 years, but this may go down in history as one of his busiest stretches to date. While overseeing May sweeps and upfronts (in which NBC debuted its new lineup of shows--sans Friends and Frasier--to advertisers), Wright, 61, was closing NBC's deal to buy Vivendi Universal's movie and TV businesses, doubling the company's estimated worth to $42 billion. FORTUNE's Christine Chen caught up with Wright during a rare free moment to talk about the acquisition, Athens, and The Apprentice.

Some say that there's a culture clash between the tight ship run by NBC parent GE and the lavish Hollywood folks at Universal. How will you integrate the two cultures?

We've found that we actually don't have so many differences. For a long time Universal was one of the most buttoned-down of the studios, with [Lew] Wasserman running the place. They've also had a period where they've struggled with different management, so they've had to mind their p's and q's. I think they're happy from a cultural standpoint.

Friends and Frasier are history--are sitcoms dead?

We have picked up fewer sitcoms. The genre has been under a lot of pressure for originality, and it's hard to do the more traditional scripted shows. But you see comedic elements on other shows, like reality TV.

Okay, let's talk about Law & Order. It has been one of NBC's gems, but the franchise is more than a decade old. And industry watchers report that NBC paid more than $1 billion in the latest deal ...

Law & Order has never been stronger. The three shows of the franchise are in the top five dramas on TV. All three win all of their time periods. The original Law & Order is the oldest and strongest. Law & Order will have more competition this fall with the new edition of CSI in the same time period, but that's fine. We never talk about what a show costs. Its costs depend on how long it's been on the air and how many episodes there are. Law & Order is certainly expensive. But it's the best franchise on TV, and I have no regrets about it at all.

Is there one non-NBC show you wish you had?


Everyone's saying that preparations for the Olympics in Greece are behind schedule. Has that affected NBC?

If I had the producers here, they would say they wish they had the facilities done six months ago. The principal things to finish are infrastructure like highways and communications. The athlete villages and venues are pretty much all there. I think the viewers probably won't sense the last-minute effort.

Is it true that NBC is not taking its advertisers to the Olympics as it has done in the past, but is parking them on a boat off Bermuda?

No, that's not true, and I'm not sure where that got started. We don't have enough space in Athens for all the people who want to go. This is not an unusual practice. We had a similar situation in Atlanta in 1996. We did not have adequate space for all the advertisers, so some went to Bermuda. A lot of people are going to Athens, and a lot to Bermuda again too. We're just not able to accommodate everyone. The reservations were done two years ago. But there's no boat in Athens, and no boat in Bermuda. We used a boat in Barcelona, but there's no boat this year.

When do you plan to retire? Is there a succession plan?

There are no immediate plans. As long as I'm healthy and able to work, I plan on doing so. There are a number of people here who could clearly succeed me, and one them most certainly will.

Finally, we have to ask: Did you learn anything from the Donald by watching NBC's hit The Apprentice?

[Laughs] It reinforced my view that you should be confident and be bold.