A little more than 10 years ago, Bob Greenblatt was producing ABC comedy “The Hughleys” on a soundstage at the CBS Radford lot in Studio City.
Next door, Ted Harbert was busy as a producer on “It’s Like, You Know,” a sitcom that also aired on the Alphabet net.
A decade later, Greenblatt and Harbert are once again on the same team — and back in the broadcast trenches as the new heads of NBC.
Incoming NBC Universal CEO Steve Burke formally announced “The Bob and Ted Show” on Thursday, handing the keys to the faltering network over to Greenblatt and Harbert.
Greenblatt will serve as chairman of NBC Entertainment, while Harbert is chairman of NBC Broadcasting.
Both execs’ missions are pretty well defined and come with autonomy, reporting only to Burke. But Greenblatt and Harbert have now been thrust into a new partnership of sorts, as their oversight will regularly overlap.
After all, as Greenblatt creates NBC’s next generation of programming, he’ll need the backing of Harbert’s domain — sales, affiliates and research.
And if Harbert wants to bolster sales and score new off-net fare for his domestic TV syndication arm to distribute, he’ll need Greenblatt to succeed.
Greenblatt, a disciplined, temperate exec, and Harbert, who hails from the showman era of network presidents, are cut from different cloth: Greenblatt is from a middle-class Midwestern family, while New York-reared Harbert grew up in a TV family; his father was also a onetime exec.
The two have never worked together at the same company, but Greenblatt and Harbert have known each other since the late 1980s, when Harbert handled programming at ABC and Greenblatt was a development exec at Lorimar.
The two got to know each other better on that CBS Radford backlot. At that time, both had just left behind broadcast exec careers and were simultaneously reinventing themselves as TV producers.
Greenblatt and Harbert, of course, later reinvented themselves again in cable — Greenblatt as Showtime’s entertainment prexy and Harbert as the CEO of Comcast Entertainment Group, running the E! and Style cablers.
At NBC, Greenblatt and Harbert won’t officially take over until after regulatory approval of the NBC/Comcast merger, expected to be made official by the end of the year.
The setup had been leaking in dribs and drabs for weeks, so nothing was a complete surprise. The real drama now turns to these execs’ direct reports, particularly at NBC — as department heads mull their fates in areas such as programming, sales and marketing.
Comcast is expected to receive final regulatory approval for the merger with NBC U by early next year.
“For nearly a year, we have worked hard to identify people from NBC Universal, Comcast and outside the two companies to form our new leadership team when the deal closes,” Burke wrote in an email to staffers. “Our goal has been to find people who have the skill sets we need to succeed and who reflect the values that will be the hallmark of NBC Universal, including teamwork, integrity, creativity and a commitment to treating people the right way.”
Burke took pains to explain the reasoning behind announcing the new team now.
“We want to give everyone enough time to begin to think about the specific opportunities and challenges they will face beginning the day of the close,” he wrote. “This is particularly true for areas that have transition work to complete before we close. While new roles won’t be effective until the deal closes, and while there will be more announcements to come, it is important that we are prepared to hit the ground running.”
But Burke’s decision to clean house at the network and install two new leaders — overseeing West Coast and East Coast affairs — mark the clearest signs yet that NBC’s new overlords see turning the network around as Priority One.
As chairman of NBC Entertainment, Greenblatt will oversee all aspects of primetime and latenight programming, business affairs, West Coast research, marketing, public relations, scheduling and Universal Media Studios.
Business affairs chieftain Marc Graboff and programming topper Angela Bromstad will report to Greenblatt.
And as chairman of NBC Broadcasting, Harbert will oversee broadcast advertising sales, NBC affiliate relations, companywide research, domestic TV syndication and the NBC station group. Sales prexy Alan Wurtzel, NBC domestic TV’s Barry Wallach, digital topper Vivi Zigler, stations prexy John Wallace and NBC Network advertising sales prexy Marianne Gambelli will report to Harbert.
In some ways, the idea of a two-headed network leader harkens back to NBC’s management structure in the 1980s, when Grant Tinker and Brandon Tartikoff ran the Peacock. Until the 2000s, NBC was generally run with a West Coast/ East Coast divide, with entertainment in Burbank and business oversight in New York.
That system didn’t always run smoothly, however, as Burbank and New York developed separate NBC cultures. That was on wide display during the Late Night Wars of 1992, when Burbank execs put their lot behind Jay Leno and New York execs sided with David Letterman.
A lot has changed since then: NBC’s New York culture is now largely about the company’s successful cable divisions, run by Bonnie Hammer and Lauren Zalaznick. Both of those execs have not only maintained their domains, they’ve both added oversight of various Comcast cable properties.
As widely assumed, Hammer will keep her domain at NBC Universal Cable Entertainment and Cable Studios — but now with a chairman title.
She’ll oversee Comcast cablers E! Entertainment and G4 in addition to her pre-existing USA, Syfy, Chiller, Sleuth, Universal HD and Universal Cable Prods. duties.
As part of the change, Hammer will name a president of E! Entertainment, while Neil Tiles will continue as president of G4.
Zalaznick’s domain has been renamed NBC Universal Entertainment & Digital Networks and Integrated Media, which she’ll oversee as chairman. (Zalaznick was previously the head of NBC Universal Women and Lifestyle Entertainment Networks.)
E!’s spinoff network, Style, will now be split away as part of the transition — added to Zalaznick’s portfolio, along with Spanish-lingo broadcaster Telemundo and its cabler sibling mun2. Comcast’s interest in PBS Sprout will now fall under her watch.
Together, Hammer and Zalaznick will share oversight of cable advertising sales, to be run by Dave Cassaro. Cassaro, who will oversee cable and digital sales, reports to both execs.
Harbert won’t oversee news and sports, however. Steve Capus will continue to serve as president of NBC News/MSNBC, while Mark Hoffman will continue as CNBC prexy.
NBC Sports chief Dick Ebersol has been given the title of chairman of what’s been dubbed the “NBC Sports Group.” That includes NBC Sports, the Golf Channel, Versus and the Comcast regional sports networks. Regional cabler topper Jon Litner, Versus head Jamie Davis and Golf channel topper Earl Marshall report to Ebersol.
Comcast cable topper Jeff Shell will move to London to become chairman of NBC Universal Intl. Pete Smith, who had headed up the international operation, now reports to Shell.
One-time ABC exec Pat Fili-Krushel joins NBC Universal as exec VP overseeing Media Works, business strategy, human resources and legal.
As part of the shuffles, NBC sales topper Mike Pilot is exiting, as expected — and as previously reported, so are NBC U TV topper Jeff Gaspin and NBC U communications chief Allison Gollust.
“These transitions are often difficult, and at times people who have made great contributions end up leaving,” Burke wrote.
Marianne Gambelli is set to take over NBC’s broadcast sales team, while Dave Cassaro will head up cable sales as the company separates its broadcast and cable sales oversight. (He’s the second new network head of sales in two days, coming a day after Fox named its sales prexy.)