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Changing of the NBC guard

BensilvermanIt appears that the scepter at NBC is about to be handed to Ben Silverman, the agent-cum-producer who’s made a name for himself in recent years as the packaging force behind NBC’s “The Office” and “The Biggest Loser,” ABC’s “Ugly Betty,” Showtime’s “The Tudors,” among others.
The whirlwind of activity at the Peacock and its studio arm, NBC Universal TV Studio, during the past few weeks has been surprising to outsiders and Burbank insiders alike, as Variety’s Joe Adalian details in his latest report. (No rest for the NBC U beat reporter this Memorial Day weekend.) Official word of Ben’s arrival and the departure of NBC Entertainment president Kevin Reilly is expected as early as tomorrow.

The changing of the guard seems designed to shake up the Alameda Avenue status quo at a time when “reinvention” is a watchword for the TV biz. Ben has proven himself adept at spotting programming trends and cutting innovative deals for his shows. His management-leadership skills will undoubtedly be tested in his new role. He’s had some traditional TV executive experience, including a stint as a creative executive at New World/Marvel during the Ron Perelman era, but not on the scale he’s about to take on. Ben was known for his independence during his successful run as a TV agent at William Morris, where he championed the Brit/Euro TV format import/export biz, scoring with “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” “Big Brother” and “The Weakest Link,” among other hits. Since leaving the agency more than five years ago to found Reveille, Ben seemed to be reveling in the freedom of being his own boss at the helm of a nimble operation capable of out-maneuvering TV’s big guns to make better, smarter, faster deals. Maybe it’s the prospect of having more ammo at his disposal that’s luring him to the other side at this point.

One call Ben might want to make when he gets settled is to the last guy named Silverman to hold a lofty post at NBC. Fred Silverman didn’t have a terribly successful tenure as NBC president and CEO from 1978-1981 (Two words: “Hello, Larry”), but there are parallels to the Silvermans then and now. NBC was deep in third place in a three-network world at the time Fred came aboard, and Fred was a hot-shot coming off of a streak at CBS and ABC where he was known for scoring by bucking industry convention. Besides, he’s an entertaining lunch date, and he’s always got something interesting to say about the state of the network biz.

No matter what transpires at NBC, there is sure to be an outpouring of support and appreciation for the departing Reilly, who’s respected far and wide as one of the good guys of the biz.

(Pictured above: Ben Silverman, left, and “Ugly Betty” co-star Eric Mabius.)

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