Universal will play Reveille

Producer to create low-cost projects about big events

This article was corrected on Mar. 10, 2002.

Having officially launched his own TV and film production company, Ben Silverman hopes to bridge the divide between programming and commerce.

Reveille reps Barry Diller’s first major production deal since announcing his intentions to reunite USA Entertainment with Vivendi Universal. It’s also USA Entertainment chairman-CEO Michael Jackson’s first major move since joining the company last fall.

Vivendi U has big plans for Silverman, who served as William Morris’ head of international packaging since 1996, first in London (where the agency still operates a thriving operation) and more recently in New York.

“All my life I’ve wanted to be running a studio, but in an independent, out-of-the-box way,” Silverman said. “I’ve built up enough of a track record with broadcasters that they’re willing to take a gamble.”

Silverman said he plans to build a roster of low-cost programming at Reveille that revolves around big events. To that end, he hopes to create new revenue streams through greater advertiser and marketing involvement.

“I believe there’s an opportunity to create TV shows that provide solutions to advertisers,” Silverman said. “While a lot of people have been talking about it, I’ve been doing it.”

Library resources

For example, Silverman said he could utilize U’s library and create a new version of 1980s action series “Knight Rider.” As part of the show’s production, Reveille would strike a deal with a car company to manufacture a real Knight Rider auto for consumers, complete with the same talking car voice featured in the series.

Silverman isn’t a stranger to advertiser tie-ins. He helped bring “Who Wants to be a Millionaire,” complete with its AT&T-sponsored “phone-a-friend” feature, to the U.S. He also set up Sunday night’s Sept. 11 docu from French filmmakers Gedeon and Jules Naudet for CBS; Nextel was brought on board as sponsor.

Silverman also set up a series of InStyle magazine specials at NBC and an eBay project at Sony.

“Advertisers are hungry, especially with the rise of TiVo, to explore new ways of getting their message across,” Jackson said. “I also think they’re more sophisticated and understand a need for distinctive programming. Ben is in a perfect position to help find new sources of revenue.”

As for creating low-cost programming, Silverman said he plans to tap his international relationships to create more co-productions.

Looks to Oz, Canada

“There’s a real opportunity to do more shows in Australia or Canada, and create new alternative paradigms,” Silverman said. “Jeff Zucker wants to make shows for $500,000. I want to be that guy who can do it and deliver.”

Jackson, who as head of London’s Channel 4 frequently collaborated with Silverman, said he’s counting on the reality wunderkind to come up with new and different creative content that will feed the Vivendi U distribution machine.

“I was always impressed with how entrepreneurial he was and how interested he was in things outside his immediate purview in the U.S.,” Jackson said. “He scored not once, but several times.”

For his part, Silverman said he was attracted to Vivendi Universal’s large library and global scope.

“I believe in Barry Diller’s and Ron Meyer’s vision and truly believe that the company is poised with so many assets moving forward,” Silverman said.

Learning experience

“Barry Diller is the greatest visionary in TV. He has incredible vision, (so I’ll take) any opportunity to learn anything around him.”

Silverman also appreciates the fact that Vivendi U comes without a broadcast network, allowing Reveille to freely pitch and produce for outlets across the board.

Next up, Silverman said he already has a slate of programming in the works, including a put pilot at NBC and collaboration with Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal’s Tribeca Prods. Reveille will dabble in both TV and film, as well as in all different program genres, including comedy, drama and reality.

Silverman has set up shop in both New York and Los Angeles. William Morris agent Howard Owens has joined the company as VP of creative affairs. Based in Reveille’s West Coast office, Owens will report to Silverman.

Company will run independently of USA’s other production entities, including Studios USA (soon to be rechristened Universal TV).

Silverman had spent six years at William Morris, where he served as the agency’s youngest division head ever. WMA topper Jim Wiatt and attorney Craig Jacobson brokered the deal.

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