Network unveils merged network-studio setup

It was Black Monday at NBC, as the Peacock plucked several key execs and unveiled a new management structure.

Gone in the messy wake of NBC’s ongoing primetime predicament are the heads of the net’s programming teams. That includes network drama exec VP Katie O’Connell, studio comedy topper Erin Gough Wehrenberg, studio drama head Elisa Roth, longtime casting vet Marc Hirschfeld and current programming exec VP Ted Frank, all of whom were believed to have been let go Monday (NBC declined to confirm the execs exiting).

Exec departures came following the exits of NBC Entertainment exec VP Teri Weinberg, Universal Media Studios prexy Katherine Pope and reality topper Craig Plestis.

In a hastily announced conference call Monday afternoon, NBC Entertainment/Universal Media Studios co-chairmen Marc Graboff and Ben Silverman unveiled their new merged network-studio setup, to be led by Angela Bromstad.

Graboff blamed the current economic downturn, as well as changes in the TV biz and NBC’s woeful performance in primetime, for the changes.

“Is cost a factor in all this, absolutely,” he said. “But what’s driving this is not just cost savings. We need to completely revamp our business to survive.”

Exec compared the new structure to Universal Pictures, in which one creative team develops its content “and when they decide to make that content they push it all out.”

Bromstad will now serve as president of primetime for NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios, and be based at the Peacock’s Universal City headquarters — moving back from London, where she’d most recently served as president of NBC Universal Intl. Production. (She’ll still handle international production, along with NBC U Intl. prexy Paul Smith.)

Also as expected, former BBC exec Paul Telegdy will head up the reality space as exec VP of alternative programming for NBC and Universal Media Studios. As part of his appointment, Telegdy will oversee the network’s expansion into producing more unscripted fare internally.

“I love an American who lived in England and an Englishman who lived in America coming together with their breadth of experience,” Silverman said. “It’s a whole new set of eyeballs, and frees Marc and I up to manage the top line of the business.”

Both execs report to Graboff and Silverman. Reaction to the new structure was mixed around town, as some industry players wondered whether it would work — having seen other nets (most notably, ABC and Touchstone) attempt to merge network and studio operations, only to back down later.

But others agreed that fewer development execs might lead to a better creative process.

“It’s insane how many execs give notes. It’s not productive for anybody,” said one agent. “We’ve all been pulling for this.”

Meanwhile, NBC also confirmed that Weinberg would work through the end of her contract at the Peacock, continuing to help with the transition, before signing on with Universal Media Studios to resume her previous gig as a producer. Also, Plestis is set to launch his new shingle, Apogee Studios, inside Universal at the start of the year.

NBC noticeably avoided any mention of Pope in its announcement. It’s no secret that Pope has received a disproportionate amount of the internal blame for the Peacock’s continued basement-dwelling ratings.

As for the new structure, NBC has completely dismantled its current programming department; instead, a single comedy and single drama team — made up of the network and studio programming execs who survived the merger — will report to Bromstad. Peacock hasn’t yet announced who will now head up the comedy and drama teams.

“We’re combining executives with studio experience and network experience, and some have been on both sides,” Bromstad said. “It’s really about eliminating the layers.”

Also out in the restructure: studio drama exec Lauren Stein and reality exec Libby Hansen.

“There were a number of people involved in the creative process,” Graboff said. “We’ve eliminated a number of layers so that the shows and writers with whom we work in development and production aren’t getting noted to death. There won’t be multiple execs in every casting session or development meeting.”

Instead, Bromstad said one exec (or two at most) will handle a given show.

Meanwhile, despite the downsized operation, Graboff and Silverman said NBC still planned to purchase shows from other studios — and produce programming for rival networks.

“Some of our most high-profile development is with studios other than Universal,” said Graboff, pointing to projects from 20th Century Fox TV, Sony Pictures TV and Warner Bros. TV. “And we continue to seek out programming from all those partners.”

And if a network doesn’t feel comfortable picking up a show from Universal? “If they said we don’t want to buy from you, we can say we won’t buy from you,” Silverman said. “But that’s not how it works. It’s all interdependent. There are not a lot of companies that can deficit finance big scripted programs.”

As for NBC’s primetime performance, Silverman admitted that the fall had been brutal for the network.

“I’m personally disappointed they didn’t deliver a bigger audience,” Silverman said. “These are not the results we’re satisfied with.”

Among those safe in Monday’s announcement: Graboff and Silverman themselves. Despite ongoing scuttlebutt over Silverman’s status at the network, insiders note that Zucker’s still a fan of Silverman — “they have an unholy alliance,” one exec quipped — and Graboff has earned points for “being a good soldier.”

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