NBC’s Green Week gets overshadowed

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

If you watched any shows on NBC this week, you probably saw the greenery.

Al Gore appears on “30 Rock.” Chuck (from “Chuck”) visits Stanford University, coinciding with an annual “green” festival. On “Journeyman,” Dan takes time from his “trip to the past” to educate a cabdriver on the wonders of recycling. The doctors on “ER” have to deal with a rolling brownout in Chicago. Somehow even “The Singing Bee” manages to do an eco-friendly episode.

It was NBC Universal’s “green week,” in which almost every prime-time show was mandated by Chief Executive Jeff Zucker to include some sort of environmental theme.

Unfortunately -- or perhaps this was expertly plotted by sinister Big Media -- the green initiative was completely overshadowed by the long-anticipated writers strike. Whoops!

No one is saying that the mainstream media would have dedicated pages of copy to the nobility of NBC’s enviro exploit. Skeptics view the initiative as a mere publicity stunt on the first week of sweeps (although, in a world of stupid press ploys, it could have been one of the more high-minded PR ploys, for sure).

Still, chances are that a slower week in entertainment news -- one that did not include celebrities like Eva Longoria and Zach Braff walking the picket line -- would have been more beneficial to NBC Universal.

Just imagine: If the timing had been different, the public vilification of Zucker (along with the other network honchos) by the writers might be replaced by the media championing him as a forward-thinking green CEO.

Bravo President Lauren Zalaznick, the head of Universal’s “green team,” said the writers strike did have some effect on the success of the week, specifically because late-night talk shows had to stop production.

“Al Gore was a scheduled guest on ‘The Tonight Show.’ That was a big disappointment,” Zalaznick said of the preempting of that night’s program.

She was also saddened that a new “Saturday Night Live” would not air this weekend, because a special green edition “Weekend Update” segment had been planned.

“That was one of the toppers for me,” Zalaznick said. “It was going to be really fun and a nice, neat, appropriate button to the week which launched seven days before. Those were two absolute losses.”

NBC Universal is not the first major company to announce a commitment to being green -- Wal-Mart, BP and News Corp. come to mind. But Debbie Levin, president of the Environmental Media Assn., which has been working with the entertainment industry since 1989 to get across messages about the environment in various platforms, said NBC Universal’s green week stood out.

“This is the most massive public initiative I’ve seen so far,” she said. “It’s a company- and program-wide statement that nobody else has done.”

But at least some viewers were confused by some of the subtler green messages in NBC’s programming.

Here’s one thread (unedited) from a message board:

“It looked like they changed the intro for the show slightly this week. Did anyone notice this?""Yeah, the eclipse was green instead of yellow.""Yeah...why was it Green anyway? That was wierd. At first I thought it was a computer glitch…""ITs green because its green week at NBC. Trying to help the planet and all that :D""Oh, I get it. For green week. Didn’t even think of that. Thanks!”

NBC Universal may be able to lead them to water, but they can’t make them drink.