It occurred to me about halfway through Ben Silverman’s executive-class press tour debut that his initials — which I kept using to distinguish comments from those of his NBC Entertainment co-chairman, Marc Graboff — are extremely unfortunate for this sort of thing. Still, Silverman mostly handled himself with aplomb and poise, achieving the now-hoped-for goal of such events, which is to talk for an hour while saying relatively little — and certainly nothing that can later be used against him.
From that perspective, Graboff was the one who hit a couple of potholes, beginning with his parsed statement that Kevin Reilly — the recently departed NBC Entertainment prexy who just alit at Fox — wasn’t technically “fired” when Silverman was tapped to do virtually the same job. The laughter from the room betrayed the point for what it was: a distinction without a difference.
Graboff also seemed to momentarily open the door to Jay Leno filling in as host of “The Tonight Show” once Conan O’Brien succeeds him in 2009 before quickly backpedaling to assert that he meant no such thing. Both Silverman and Graboff expressed their undying love for Leno (“We want him to stay at NBC for life,” Silverman said), but none of that addresses the problem the Peacock will surely face once its latenight workhorse host is faced with unemployment and begins shopping himself around for another home — possibly as direct competition to O’Brien.
Silverman opened with a blinding flurry of announcements, then stumbled only a few times during the Q&A, such as when he was asked to justify hiring Isaiah Washington. Instead of simply saying that whatever offenses got the former “Grey’s Anatomy” co-star dropped from the show by ABC and Touchstone TV didn’t merit a life sentence, the newly minted exec kept talking about how adding him to “The Bionic Woman” cast would help the new series, a non-response at best.
In the broad strokes, though, Silverman was smooth and executive-like, and he and Graboff nicely highlighted their complementary skill sets, while stressing that theirs — unlike some great press tour couplings of the past — was not a shotgun marriage. (Compared with the tortoise-like valet-parking service at the BevHilton, the session was also a public-relations masterpiece.)
Consider it further proof that when dealing with the press, a little BS can go a long way.