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updated 12/4/2008 9:26:02 PM ET 2008-12-05T02:26:02

General Electric Co.'s media and theme park subsidiary, NBC Universal, this week laid off about 500 employees — about 3 percent of its work force of 15,000 — as part of a plan to trim $500 million next year, a person familiar with the situation said Thursday.

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Several correspondents and other staff were laid off at NBC News. Positions were cut in roughly even proportions across NBC Universal's ad sales operation, theme parks, movie studio and cable networks, said the person, who requested anonymity because she was not authorized to speak publicly.

No NBC officials were commenting on the record on Thursday.

The moves included putting the nightly CNBC show "The Big Idea" with Donny Deutsch on hiatus, said Brian Steel, vice president of CNBC public relations.

"Given current economic conditions the feeling was that now is not the right time to do a 'success' show five days a week," Steel said. Deutsch will now work on a monthly special and appear regularly on CNBC and the "Today" show, he said.

Among those laid off at the news division, which had 1,200 employees, are Dallas reporter Don Teague, West Coast correspondent John Larson and Mark Mullen, who served as Beijing Olympics bureau chief.

The staff reductions are in line with the corporate goal of a 3 percent budget cut next year.

They are part of the cuts NBC Universal Chief Executive Jeff Zucker announced in a memo in October, saying "it has become evident that the decline in consumer confidence and spending will impact our operations" and that the company "must take steps now to prepare for these new economic realities."

Zucker had asked each business unit to focus on reducing promotion expenses, cutting discretionary spending such as travel and entertainment and outside consultants and trimming staff costs. He also looked for savings by putting major purchases through the corporate sourcing department.

The laid off employees are to leave by January. Several have accepted buyouts and voluntary retirement packages.

None of new fall shows clicked with viewers
NBC Universal was one of the brightest-performing segments in General Electric's third-quarter earnings, showing a 35 percent increase in revenue to $5.07 billion, bolstered by broadcasting the Beijing Olympics and a 10 percent increase in profit to $645 million.

But GE forecast that growth in the unit's revenue would slow to 5 percent to 10 percent in the fourth quarter and profit would be flat or 5 percent higher than the previous year.

Under NBC Entertainment co-chairman Ben Silverman, the NBC network has maintained the lowly ratings status it was suffering when he got there 18 months ago. It remains in fourth place in the new season.

None of its four new fall series clicked with viewers, and one — the drama "My Own Worst Enemy" — has been all but officially canceled.

But Silverman, a former producer, has espoused a new performance standard based on earnings more than performance. He has given new priority to co-production deals where the network share costs and to product placements in its series that boost network earnings.

GE shares fell 58 cents, or 3.2 percent, to close at $17.55 on Thursday.

The cuts came the same day Viacom Inc., owner of MTV Networks, BET Networks and Paramount Pictures, announced it would trim 850 jobs, or 7 percent of its work force, freeze some senior-level salaries and write down certain programming and other assets.

Viacom's moves are expected to generate pretax savings of $200 million to $250 million next year. The company will take a restructuring charge of $400 million to $450 million, or 42 cents to 48 cents per share, before taxes in the current quarter, which ends Dec. 31.

More on NBC | General Electric

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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