Ben Silverman has been a prime mover of primetime during the past decade, instigating more than a few game-changing deals and shows.
The exec helped launch the contemporary boom in unscripted TV, fueled the broadcast webs’ mania for adapting foreign formats and pushed the boundaries of product integration on the small screen.
His Reveille shingle’s recent string of successes, including “The Office” and “Ugly Betty,” made the indie producer a hot property, and indeed, Silverman was mulling several options — including a sale. That’s what made NBC Universal prexy-CEO Jeff Zucker act fast last week, making the whiplash decision to shake up his network entertainment ranks this weekend.
“Ben had a lot of people chasing him for a long time, even the last couple of weeks,” Zucker said. “We got into conversations, and this evolved from that.”
Now, the industry wonders, can Silverman inject a little of the 21st century into NBC — or will he be forced to learn a thing or two about how to manage one still rooted in the 20th?
Zucker, who met Silverman when he took over the Peacock entertainment presidency in 2000, has grown so impressed with Silverman over the years that he calls his new employee “the most prolific producer of his generation.”
“He brings a great energy and enthusiasm and a new way of doing business to NBC,” Zucker told reporters Tuesday.
Contrary to early scuttlebutt, Zucker said NBC U had no plans to purchase Reveille outright but was focused on finding a way to recruit Silverman. (The Peacock wound up extending its first-look deal with Reveille by another two years.)
And Silverman is no fool: Jobs like the one he just landed, co-chairman (with Marc Graboff) of NBC Entertainment and NBC Universal TV Studio, don’t last forever.
That’s why he negotiated an arrangement in which Reveille will continue to operate separately, with Silverman remaining as owner. He’ll also continue to have a say in Reveille shows already on the air (including ones on rival nets, like “Betty”) but won’t have a financial stake in new ones moving forward.
“I didn’t want to sell Reveille,” Silverman said. “Reveille will continue and remain robust. It will service all of its existing shows as it has previously, as well as generate and create new ideas.”
Such a move is not unprecedented: When Robert Greenblatt left Greenblatt-Janollari Studio to take the Showtime entertainment presidency, he left control to partner David Janollari but remained a silent partner. (When Janollari left as well, for the WB, the company shut down development but continued to operate as the producer of existing shows.)
But in other cases, execs wound up selling their companies when making the move to a big network gig. Former NBC West Coast president Don Ohlmeyer sold his successful production company to ESPN before joining the Peacock, while Grant Tinker divested his interest in MTM before he took over NBC.
With an interest in Reveille’s perf, Silverman may face some awkward scheduling decisions when it comes time to figure out how to compete against one of his own shows on a rival net, such as ABC’s “Ugly Betty.” Zucker said he wasn’t concerned about any potential conflict of interest, however.
Silverman declined to comment on who may now run day-to-day operations at Reveille. Silverman’s Reveille lieutenants include business/legal/production affairs exec Lee Rierson; creative affairs execs Howard Owens and Marc Koops; Christopher Grant, who currently oversees the shingle’s expanding international business; and development exec Teri Weinberg.
In allowing Silverman to keep his business on the side, Zucker was apparently eager to translate the producer’s success streak to NBC, which remains stuck in last place among the Big Four.
While careful to praise former NBC Entertainment prexy Kevin Reilly and his tenure at the Peacock, William Morris scripted TV topper Aaron Kaplan said Silverman brings a new dynamic to the net.
“Ben looks at things differently than a normal content developer,” said Kaplan, noting Silverman’s success in scripted TV, international distribution, reality series, digital application and product integration. “He brings a broad scope of expertise to this job, and we’re excited to see what his and Marc’s plans are for the network and the studio.”
UTA’s Jay Sures said Silverman is “truly one of a kind. Part agent, part producer and part buyer, he built a company with the intent of changing the way we all do business and is now going to parlay that into the next stage of his career.”
Silverman shot to stardom in 1999, when, as a William Morris agent, he helped bring a domestic version of U.K. hit “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” to ABC. The gamer not only opened the door to a modern tide of reality TV in primetime but also opened the door to a new wave of sponsorship deals. Features like the AT&T-sponsored “Phone a Friend” option are now de rigueur for unscripted TV (and even scripted shows, such as Reveille’s “The Office”).
Silverman spent six years at William Morris, where he served as the agency’s youngest division head ever. He left his gig as head of international packaging to launch Reveille at Universal in 2002. Deal at the time repped Barry Diller’s first major production agreement in the wake of USA Entertainment’s reunion with Vivendi Universal and was also USA Entertainment chairman-CEO Michael Jackson’s biggest deal during his tenure there.
After NBC took over Universal, Silverman began licensing the NBC U format lineup internationally for the Peacock — closing more than 50 format deals in more than 30 countries within one year (Daily Variety, Feb. 24, 2005). But in 2005, Silverman opted to take back full financial control of Reveille.
Initially known more for his reality TV prowess, Silverman mined foreign formats to bring a new wave of scripted skeins adapted from overseas hits — some flops, such as “Coupling,” which fizzled quickly on NBC; and some successes, including NBC’s “The Office” and ABC’s “Ugly Betty.”
Thanks to those critically acclaimed shows, Silverman has also spent much time on award show stages as of late, as “The Office” scored last year’s comedy series Emmy, while “Ugly Betty” won the Golden Globe for TV laffer.
Off primetime, Reveille touts its accomplishments in the digital and international realm — taking its formats globally, for example — just as heavily.
Reveille’s track record also includes Showtime’s recent entry “The Tudors” and such unscripted skeins as “The Biggest Loser,” “Identity,” “Blow Out,” “Nashville Star,” “30 Days” and “The Restaurant.”
(Josef Adalian contributed to this report.)