Entertainment topper gives programming push
A relatively subdued Ben Silverman started to put his stamp on NBC Monday, revamping the net’s fall sked and unveiling a development slate that includes everything from a Norman Lear dramedy to a new take on “American Gladiators.”
In his first appearance before the nation’s TV press, the Peacock’s new entertainment division topper worked overtime to give the impression of a man in motion.
He opened with a laundry list of announcements about various moves, none seismic in nature. But the collective flurry of press releases was sweeping enough to distract reporters from the fact that NBC remains a network deep in fourth place. Much-anticipated session with Silverman and partner Marc Graboff didn’t produce any real fireworks despite some possible flashpoints.
Journos seemed unfazed by the news that former “Grey’s Anatomy” star Isaiah Washington was joining the cast of “Bionic Woman” for at least five segs. And Silverman was able to brush off a Slate.com report questioning possible conflicts of interest raised by a number of pending Reveille projects developed while Silverman was still running that company.
For the most part, Silverman curbed his usual enthusiastic style Monday and opted for GE Ben, opening his session with a dry recitation of the announcements. Only late in the session, when he cued a sound tech to play the NBC chimes, did a glimmer of Silverman’s oversized personality emerge.
Exec was also a bit looser offstage during a huddle with reporters, offering up a spirited defense of the net’s news dump.
“Get ready — I want to do it fast and furious,” Silverman said. “It’s hard to move this massive ship. We’re an inch from an iceberg, not 100 yards from shore.”
Silverman said he hoped to bring the frenetic pace in which he ran Reveille “as an entrepreneur to this massive business.”
Among the more notable announcements:
n Six weeks after boss Jeff Zucker said he anticipated no major sked shifts, Silverman introduced changes to three nights of the week.
Key move is the decision to relocate frosh drama “Chuck” from Tuesdays at 9 to Mondays at 8 p.m. With “Heroes” still at 9 and “Journeyman” at 10, Peacock now has created a fantasy-themed Monday sked that Silverman said will be well served by lots of promos in the net’s Sunday night football franchise.
“Chuck” displaces one of NBC’s two editions of “Deal or No Deal.” Quizzer will now air Wednesday and Friday at 8 p.m. Silverman is hoping the Friday “Deal” will give a boost to “Friday Night Lights,” which is also shifting back an hour to 9 p.m. “FNL” is swapping slots with “Las Vegas,” which will now air Fridays at 10.
With “Chuck” off Tuesdays, NBC will vamp by expanding the Silverman-produced “Biggest Loser” to 90 minutes (a trick the net’s used before) and filling the 9:30 p.m. slot with “The Singing Bee.” Latter skein started off on a high note last week, and Silverman said he thinks the show could “hopefully grow even more” in the coming weeks.
n As he’s been hinting to reporters since his first week on the job, Silverman finally confirmed that he’s done a deal with Lear to produce a one-hour comedic drama about a mom who gets back into the work force and finds herself battling her late husband’s ruthless partner. Nina Colman will create and write the pilot, exec producing alongside Lear and his Act III Prods. Universal Media Studios is producing, along with Reveille. Act III’s Lara Bergthold will also exec produce, while Todd Cohen will supervise for Reveille.
“We are fast-tracking (it) in development and circling an A-list actor and actress as we speak,” Silverman said, calling the project “a wonderful, wonderful battle of the sexes.”
Despite being announced as a “series deal,” project has been given a script commitment by the net.
n Silverman confirmed that he’s looking to develop a new take on the campy 1980s franchise “American Gladiators” via his old Reveille banner. Given the success of “Heroes,” a reality show with superhero themes seems logical. Exec refused to discuss how the show may fit into NBC’s brand, however, dismissing a question about the project by saying, “There’s no deal done.”
n NBC and Universal Media Studios have sealed an exclusive first-look deal with indie feature producer Charles Corwin (“The Squid and the Whale”). Silverman called Corwin “a friend of mine and somebody I’ve wanted to be in business with for a long time.
He “hopefully will be sourcing us the next generation of quality writers, actors and filmmakers out of New York,” Silverman said.
n Silverman has bought the reality format “Phenomenon,” which features A&E star Criss Angel and mentalist Uri Geller as they search for a new star in the world of illusions and magic. Project, from Granada America, Keshet Broadcasting, Kuperman Prods. and SevenOne Intl. is based on Israel series “The Successor.”
“We think we have found the next great reality format in a world never explored in reality television in America before,” Silverman said. “We actively pursued it. It’s being launched in around 15 territories as we speak, and we will be going on air as soon as possible.”
n Gary Scott Thompson (“Las Vegas”) is taking on the revamp of telenovela “Without Breasts, There Is No Paradise.”
n Jerry Seinfeld will return to NBC’s Thursday lineup, guest starring as himself on the Oct. 4 season premiere of “30 Rock.” Seinfeld is also starring in a series of NBC “minisodes” tied to his new “Bee Movie.”
n NBC is sticking to a premiere-week strategy, with most of its new and returning skeins launching the week of Sept. 24. Reality skeins “Loser” and “Deal” will kick off a few days before the season starts, while “30 Rock” (Oct. 4) and “Friday Night Lights” (Oct. 5) will be held back a week. And, in keeping with tradition, “Scrubs” will also get a late start, returning Oct. 25. (Peacock will likely stunt with an hourlong “Office” block for the first month of the season.)
n The programming dial turns green for NBC Universal in November as environmental themes will be scripted into programming as part of a weeklong “Green Is Universal” initiative that starts Nov. 4. Bravo Media president Lauren Zalaznick, head of NBC U’s Green Council, said that all NBC U networks — and all programs — would participate. (For more info on the initiative, go to Variety.com)
n As expected, “The Apprentice” will be back (Daily Variety, June 1). New edition of the skein will feature celebs, an idea Silverman hopes will help relaunch the show with auds. Casting has just begun, but, in true Silverman-Donald Trump fashion, Silverman said that Trump has blessed the idea of producers asking Rosie O’Donnell to appear. While that’s a longshot, the offer will no doubt help drum up media interest in the announcement.
Silverman said he’s already approached a number of celeb friends about appearing on “Apprentice,” including cast members of “The Office” — a show he produced in his past life.
Speaking of Silverman the producer, reporters touched only lightly on the question of the exec’s potential conflicts of interest. But quietly, NBC execs admit they know the issue won’t go away anytime soon.
For one thing, many of Silverman’s programming announcements Monday related to Reveille projects — including the Norman Lear/Nina Colman collaboration, as well as the reworked import of Australia hit “Kath & Kim” (Michelle Nader of “King of Queens” has joined as exec producer).
Beyond the previously announced fact that Silverman’s Reveille profits have been put into a blind trust — and that he’ll no longer profit from new Reveille projects moving forward — Graboff confirmed that NBC has put into place a procedure to evaluate all potential conflict-of-interest issues as they relate to Silverman and Reveille.
“GE has gotten involved in it,” said Graboff, who has excused himself from the process because of his partnership with Silverman. “GE is very stringent about conflict of interest-type issues. Everybody at the company is comfortable with the conflict-of-interest procedure, when there is something that appears to be a conflict or is an actual conflict with a Reveille project.”
Peacock’s decision to turn “The Biggest Loser” into a permanent 90-minute show this fall, for example, was vetted by the network before being announced.
Silverman also responded by first pointing out that “Kath & Kim” was already being redeveloped prior to his Peacock development and that “My focus is NBC.”
“I’m looking for the best shows anywhere in the world and from the best brands in the world — wherever those shows come from, we’re going to look to bring them to our air,” Silverman said.
Silverman also dismissed concerns that he may program lightly against Reveille shows like “Ugly Betty,” noting that the network already goes up against some of its own shows.
“We’re programming against ‘House,'” Silverman said. “And we’re not going to hurt ‘My Name Is Earl’ (to help ‘Betty’).”
As for Washington’s “Bionic” casting, Peacock execs don’t believe Washington’s recent problems will affect how he’s received by NBC viewers.
“I started talking to him before he was available,” Silverman said. “When he told me he was available, I was like, ‘You are? Wait. I don’t understand. What do you mean? You’re a huge star on a hit television show.’ I didn’t quite understand what had gone on there. But the bottom line is he’s a wonderful actor.”
One Disney insider expressed surprise at Silverman’s remarks, since any conversations with Washington before he was terminated could be considered inducement to breach his ABC contract.
Washington will guest star in at least five episodes of frosh actioner “Bionic Woman,” playing a mysterious new member of the org that reconstructed the now-bionic Jamie Sommers (Michelle Ryan).
Beyond “Bionic,” NBC is also developing an action vehicle for Washington based on an idea of the actor’s. NBC will wait and see whether Washington is needed on “Bionic” beyond his five-episode arc, then jump right in.
“There are not a lot of African-American action leads,” Silverman said.
(Michael Learmonth contributed to this report.)