Teri Weinberg is starring in her own real-life version of “Ugly Betty.”
In just a matter of weeks, Weinberg has gone from being a successful (but not particularly well-known) Hollywood producer to one of the most powerful women in television. And like Betty’s TV enemies, some naysayers have questioned just how this newcomer could rise so far, so fast.
“Every step of the way, I (have) had to convince people that if they gave me a chance I had the innate intelligence to do the job,” she says, adding that she’s “always felt there’s a little Betty in all of us.”
Her official job description — head of series development for NBC — doesn’t capture the real portfolio of NBC U co-chairman Ben Silverman’s longtime lieutenant.
“She’s continuing to expand her purview and will be getting involved in every aspect of the process, from marketing the shows to nurturing the talent,” Silverman says. “She’s gonna be right there with me.”
Bottom line: Silverman may be the star of the show at NBC, but Weinberg is tasked with doing a lot of the heavy lifting — and her perf will be key to any Peacock ratings recovery.
In fact, with Silverman focused on the big picture, agents and studio execs all over town have started thinking of Weinberg as NBC’s de facto prexy of entertainment — Kevin Reilly, but without the title. She’s taking pitches solo, reading scripts and giving notes on current series.
The woman who until recently served as an exec producer (and earned multiple Emmy noms for) shows such as “The Office,” “The Tudors” and, yes, “Ugly Betty,” is working with Silverman to exec produce NBC’s much-needed primetime comeback.
Weinberg’s rise reps a stunning ascent for an exec who less than a decade ago was still toiling as an assistant to ICM agent Martha Luttrell, selling body-care products on the side to make extra coin.
But it’s also part of a major bet NBC U supremo Jeff Zucker is making — specifically, that unconventional managers can do a better job reviving the Peacock than the usual showbiz suspects.
Despite his strong record as a producer and entrepreneur, Silverman is a network outsider who faces a steep learning curve as he tries to steer a key unit of a major conglom. Likewise, Katherine Pope — the newly tapped head of NBC’s TV studio — has just a few years of experience in Hollywood.
Silverman thinks NBC can benefit from outsiders’ perspectives. But his lack of high-level management experience at a Peacock-scaled enterprise and the thin resumes of his key creative lieutenants have plenty of people in town clucking and waiting for the grand experiment to implode. Sure, they’ve got the raw talent, but do they have the experience to manages crises and pace themselves through the marathon of a nine-month season?
Silverman says he has the utmost confidence in his team. Ever the optimist, he sees their relative lack of schooling as traditional TV development execs as an asset, not a detriment.
“I love Hollywood, and I respect the entire community, but I want to bring a little bit of entrepreneurial spirit to the company,” he says. “We don’t have time for people who keep talking about the ‘rules’ that have been created. These rules become walls. We need to deliver results, and we need to deliver them quickly.”
And no matter how much rivals snicker, conventional wisdom about NBC’s woes of the past few years is that the Peacock’s corporate culture had become entirely too complacent and focused on replicating its past successes (how else to explain a decade of “Friends” clones?) during the “Must-See TV” heyday. The executive overhaul undertaken this summer with Silverman and Co. amounts to a blow-up-the-building solution that saw the departures of a number of the last Peacock execs schooled in the Warren Littlefield-Don Ohlmeyer era of nearly a decade ago.
Weinberg typifies the new breed in Burbank. Her work sked (she’s up before 5 a.m. most days) makes the perpetually-in-motion Silverman seem almost like a slacker. But people who know both execs say Weinberg’s main value to Silverman is as a partner in making him focus — and helping him execute — important decisions.
“Ben does a lot of great things, but he’s not always great at saying no,” says William Morris Agency topper Jim Wiatt, a longtime Silverman pal. “Teri can say ‘no.’ She can say it elegantly, or she can be tough about it … but she can be that person in the room who says, ‘No, this isn’t for us.’ ”
Greg Daniels, who developed the U.S. version of “The Office” with Weinberg, agrees the exec has a low-B.S. attitude that’s rare in Hollywood.
“She’s very straightforward and trustworthy and confident enough to speak her mind,” he says. “If there’s any problem or injustice, she’s very dogged. She was always a good fighter for us, an advocate for writers.”
Despite her direct manner, Weinberg is no bull in a china shop.
She’s learned plenty about the art of the schmooze from Silverman. And she speaks the language of Hollywood when it comes to praising talent (she recently called Brett Ratner “one of the most successful film directors on the planet“).
Like Silverman, she’s not afraid of sometimes acting in ways that seem a bit corny to outsiders — serving milk and cookies to staffers, or ringing the NBC chimes when there’s good news.
“People may mock the little things as silly, but we’re trying to create a culture where people want to come to work,” Weinberg says. “I also want people to feel they have a voice.”
So far that’s meant breaking down barriers between departments.
“We’re having these huge roundtable meetings with 50 and 60 people,” she says. “And we’re all on email all day, asking, ‘Did you see this movie?’ or ‘Did you read that article?’ I’m distributing my scripts throughout the company. … We’re trying to light little fires throughout the entire company.”
Weinberg says she’s trying to spend at least 15 minutes with every NBC staffer, hoping to create an environment where all feel passionate about programming and free to speak up.
Weinberg’s style is clearly that of someone who didn’t come up through the traditional Hollywood system. Born in Cleveland and raised in Arizona, she didn’t take the usual route to college right after high school.
“I wasn’t brought up in a family where college was the next step,” she says. She eventually enrolled at Scottsdale Community College and then transferred to Arizona State U., graduating in 1994.
Weinberg worked her way through school, and also spent time in a rock band. The latter experience gave her enough of a taste of showbiz to convince her to move to Los Angeles.
“My first foray into Hollywood was actually going to a Learning Annex seminar about how to become an agent,” she says.
It took Weinberg “four weeks of nagging,” but she finally got a meeting with a human resources exec at ICM. None of the agents wanted to hire her on their desks, so she took a gig as a floater assistant, where she got to learn about all segments of the biz.
Weinberg also stood out because she was an assistant in her mid-20s, and she drove a Suzuki Sidekick while “the other 18- and 19-year-old assistants were driving Mercedes,” she says.
By 2000, Weinberg was ready to leave the agency world for a gig in a dot-com company. She also started a side business with a friend, selling lotions and other body products directly to major companies.
At the time, Weinberg’s roommate was dating Silverman. It wasn’t long before Silverman, impressed by how hard Weinberg worked at building the lotion business, offered her a job at his new Reveille banner.
“He hired me to be his Girl Monday through Sunday,” she says. “He hired me to do everything, but my real focus became casting.”
Silverman trusted Weinberg enough to eventually put her in charge of scripted development. She would become integral to the development and production of ABC’s frosh hit dramedy “Ugly Betty” and Showtime’s “The Tudors.”
Reveille’s small size and startup mentality also allowed Silverman and Weinberg to grow particularly close.
“Sometimes she feels like my kid sister, and sometimes I feel like I’m her kid brother,” he says.
That relationship will be tested, of course, by the unforgiving corporate environment that is network TV. If Silverman can’t reverse NBC’s slide quickly, pressure will build on him to find a scapegoat — a role traditionally played by execs in Weinberg’s position.
Some also wonder if it’s a good thing for Silverman’s top lieutenant to be someone so simpatico with his tastes. Networks thrive on diversity, and while Weinberg has shown an ability to turn down outsiders, some wonder whether she’s able to say no to Silverman.
Whatever the outcome of their tenure at NBC, Silverman hints that he and Weinberg are a package deal.
“We may fail,” he concedes. “But if it doesn’t work, it won’t be something that changes my perspective of her. … She’s gonna be right there with me.”