NBC has become — to paraphrase one of the network’s recent flops — its own worst enemy.
The Peacock has been in a perpetual state of crisis for several years now — blowing up its executive teams and repositioning its programming strategy, all while struggling to pull out of fourth place.
The latest chapter of this NBC saga was a doozy: The conglom ousted both Universal Media Studios topper Katherine Pope and NBC Entertainment exec VP Teri Weinberg on Friday in a pre-weekend Peacock bloodbath. Alternative topper Craig Plestis, who’s been negotiating his exit for weeks, will also be out by the end of the year.
Weinberg is expected to remain at the NBC U conglom, however, in a different role. Pope will exit the conglom entirely and is scouting for her next step. (Insiders said Pope was offered a top job at ABC Studios earlier this year, but that NBC would not release her from her contract.)
“It’s horrible,” one agent with several clients at the Peacock said late Friday of the NBC upheaval. “This is just bad for the business.”
Move comes as NBC U looks to toss out its traditional network-studio structure, particularly in light of its rough fall performance. NBC Entertainment/Universal Media Studios co-chairmen Ben Silverman and Marc Graboff started informing staffers of the changes Friday.
As part of the reorg, a newly merged network and studio scripted division is expected to be run by former studio topper Angela Bromstad, who’s set to return from a stint in London. Also, NBC is creating an alternative-driven production entity within the network to be run by former BBC exec Paul Telegdy (who’s been expected to take over the net’s reality department for months).
With the newly combined operations, more trims may be in the offing.
“It will be a pared-down organization,” one insider said.
Observers had been awaiting such a move at NBC for months. A network that seemed unbeatable a decade ago — when such franchises as “Friends” and “ER” were still riding high — now takes a backseat at the NBC Universal conglom, which prefers to tout the success of cablers like USA, Sci Fi and Bravo. Even MSNBC, the company’s underdog news net, is experiencing a surge.
NBC U topper Jeff Zucker likes to stress that primetime reps just a fraction of the overall conglom’s perf — and as long as it’s making money, ratings don’t matter much.
But according to insiders, Zucker had begun to pressure Silverman to replace Weinberg (and perhaps bring in an entertainment president) after such a rough fall. Silverman argued that Pope — whose track record has been equally disappointing as of late — should then go as well.
Ironically, the move comes before the launch of what’s turning out to be the most promising skein of the season for NBC, the Ian McShane starrer “Kings.”
Nonetheless, that Weinberg and Pope were in trouble had been a foregone industry conclusion, particularly after this fall. Most recently, the net was forced to slash its order on “Knight Rider” when that remake posted basement-dwelling numbers.
NBC had also staked a great deal on the freshman perf of the Christian Slater actioner “My Own Worst Enemy,” which also tanked, as did international co-production “Crusoe.” And new laffer “Kath & Kim,” while earning a full-season order, hasn’t set the world on fire.
Peacock is also struggling with returning shows such as “Heroes,” a one-time megahit that hasn’t performed well since its first season.
Pope had been seen as being set up to take the fall for NBC’s continued woes; it doesn’t help that the studio’s recent output has all flopped. But Pope was also close to exiting in March, when oversight of cable series was stripped from Universal Media Studios and moved to a new shingle under NBC U Cable Entertainment topper Bonnie Hammer.
Pope and Silverman had a frosty relationship, which also didn’t help matters. With her contract up this summer, Pope was still mulling her next move when she caught wind of the shuffle in the air. She confronted the co-chairmen about it Friday — when she was told she was out.
On the flip side, Weinberg had been in line for the NBC Entertainment president title — had the Peacock’s fall not opened with a thud.
Weinberg had been serving as a de facto entertainment topper, while Silverman focused on big-picture, business-oriented dealmaking. But industry wags have argued that Weinberg had been given too much of the oversight that Silverman should have. Before NBC, Weinberg had no exec experience — and some believe the net has suffered without a more seasoned vet handling the day-to-day programming side.
Still, Weinberg has been a trusty lieutenant to Silverman, having worked shoulder-to-shoulder with him at Reveille as a producer on “The Office,” “Ugly Betty” and other shows. As a result, she’s said to still have a solid role for her in the new setup.
Weinberg is expected to segue to more of a production role, likely working with Telegdy in shaping their division (which is being formed to operate much like a mini-Reveille, the shingle that Silverman formerly owned, with Weinberg at his side). Also in the mix: Plestis, who will serve as a producer in the setup.
Meanwhile, Bromstad will operate more as the Peacock’s de facto entertainment prexy.
The Bromstad appointment repped the most surprising aspect of Friday’s shakeup. Most industry execs assumed Bromstad was out of the picture, having been more or less exiled overseas in a previous round of changes at the studio. Zucker’s said to be a fan, and according to one agent, “that’s all that matters.”
Exec had served as president of the then-named NBC Universal TV Studio until 2007. Since then, she’s been based in London, overseeing the network and studio’s growing production base there as president of international production at NBC Universal Intl.
Bromstad scored points during her time there, having expanded the company’s international presence (saving the conglom some coin, for example, by bringing upcoming skein “The Philanthropist” overseas).
With her return, the international and domestic studio operations will likely operate as one as well.
But her bigger charge will be integrating the network and studio — and forming her own team in the process. New setup means it will be less likely that the entity will produce for outside networks in the future, as it does now with shows such as “House” (Fox) and “Worst Week” (CBS).
NBC’s decision to merge the network and studio drew a mixed reaction from industry sources. Some noted that the previous conglom that tried to drop the wall between both sides, Disney (which at one point put Touchstone TV inside ABC), eventually re-established those boundaries after the setup created more confusion.
But several cable nets, such as HBO and FX, act both as network and studio on projects without issues.
“The structure is a good one, and what everyone should go to, but they have exactly the wrong people,” said one rival network exec.
Despite the drama at NBC, Silverman is still expected to continue as co-chairman of NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios. Exec has had a contract renewal in the works for months, but it’s believed Silverman hasn’t been itching to reup just yet — preferring to keep his options open.
Zucker has said while Silverman has made some mistakes along the way, he’s accomplished what he was brought in to do: Blow up the way the networks program primetime. Silverman’s financial mandates have also been met: The network and studio have exceeded their quarter by quarter financial targets, the company has noted. Also, the more the industry’s players attack Silverman, the more Zucker deepens his resolve to keep the exec at NBC U, insiders note.
Moves come a day after NBC Universal instituted conglomwide staff cuts, eliminating 500 positions, or 3% of its workforce.
Meanwhile, following the NBC U and Viacom downsizings last week, industry scuttlebutt is turning to Disney-ABC, which is said to be next in line to make some major staff reductions.
(Cynthia Littleton contributed to this report.)