NBC cuts costs -- The network lost 13 percent of its prime-time audience in '92 and could stand to lose more

By Alan Carter
Updated January 08, 1993 at 05:00 AM EST

NBC employees had heard the rumors about company cost-cutting, but they thought things must be really getting tight when they saw the entertainment division president, Warren Littlefield, working behind the bar at their L.A. Christmas party. But Littlefield and two of his top programming lieutenants, who also tended bar, weren’t trying to save a few dollars — they were just trying to infuse a little morale, and lots of needed cheer, into the beleaguered staffers.

How bad are things at NBC — the once-dominant network that (1) saw a whopping 13 percent drop in its total prime-time audience for 1992, (2) faces the May departure of Cheers, its only top 10 show, and (3) is agonizing over the likely defection of late-night maestro David Letterman to CBS? (NBC has until Jan. 15 to decide whether to try to hold Letterman by giving him Jay Leno‘s Tonight Show job.) Take the Christmas party, held for the staff at Studio 9 in Burbank, Calif., as a barometer.

”They usually have to kick people out, but this party was over by nine,” says one NBC executive. Counters a network publicist, Pat Schultz, ”It was a very fun party.”

”Warren tried to make things festive — you have to give him a lot of credit,” the executive adds. ”But with all the things going on lately, it hardly seems like anyone was in the mood to party.” That includes Leno, who has been making on-air gibes about NBC’s lack of support for him and who left his own Tonight Show Christmas party, sources say, after less than an hour.

While no one would say so on the record, the word around the hallways at NBC is that morale can’t go any lower. Says one source, ”All I can tell you is, I heard a few people joked at the party that it was a good thing those guys can mix drinks. Everyone at NBC might be looking for jobs to fall back on.”