Erin Underhill to drama, Tracey Pakosta joins comedy side
Bob Greenblatt has reached into the past as part of his effort to ensure a bright future for the Peacock’s network production arm.
NBC Entertainment on Monday announced several key exec appointments and a new moniker for the TV studio. The clinical-sounding Universal Media Studios is gone, replaced by the newly rebooted Universal Television, the logo affixed to so many of the studio’s hits from decades past.
The exec changes reflect Greenblatt’s desire to dramatically ramp up development and production activity at Universal Television in an effort to put the studio back in the action of selling shows to outside networks in addition to NBC. That makeover began in earnest in August, when Greenblatt tapped CBS veteran Bela Bajaria as exec veep to oversee the studio.
With the changes unveiled Monday, Russell Rothberg will head Universal Television’s drama department as senior veep. He previously held the same title at UMS and also had programming responsibilities on the network side. Erin Underhill moves from senior veep of current programming at NBC to senior veep of drama at Universal Television, reporting to Rothberg.
New to the mix is Tracey Pakosta, who joins Universal TV as senior veep of comedy after most recently serving as head of Craig Ferguson’s CBS-based production banner, Green Mountain West. Another comedy exec will be appointed shortly, Greenblatt said.
Beth Klein has also joined the studio as senior veep of casting. She spent the past 23 years at Showtime, where she worked closely on casting with Greenblatt prior to his move to NBC in January.
The studio exec changes came about as Bajaria assembled her team and to allow execs like Rothberg to focus solely on the studio side rather than juggling studio and network responsibilities, as was mandated by the previous NBC-Universal management regime.
“We quickly wanted to create an infrastructure,” Greenblatt told Variety. “We’re already in mid-selling season, but we wanted to get the right people in line to get going. … You have to spread your assets, and I would love a lot of these shows to be a hit on our network, but there’s a great business to get a hit for another network. …The studio has
missed the boat. It’s no one’s fault, but it was formerly the corporation’s decision to fold (the network and studio) together. I don’t think it made sense (for execs) to be hired for the network and also figure out how to sell to ABC and Fox.”
Greenblatt said there are no immediate plans to replace Underhill and Rothberg on the network side, adding there were “more people than we needed when we consolidated” responsibilities under newly appointed NBC Entertainment prexy Jennifer Salke.
The moniker changes is a nod to the studio’s legacy as a powerhouse TV supplier that dominated network skeds in the 1960s and ’70s.
The studio has undergone several name changes over the past 15 years: It has variously been known as Studios USA (during the period when Barry Diller owned it), Universal Network TV, NBC Universal TV Studio and Universal Media Studios. Universal Television invokes the halcyon days of “Columbo,” “The Rockford Files,” “McCloud,” “Magnum P.I.” and a slew of other hits.
“We are excited to embark on the rebuilding of the studio,” Bajaria said. “This group brings a wide range of experience, great creative relationships and a strong belief in the studio business. We look forward to working in partnership with the creative community to produce quality shows for a variety of networks under the Universal Television banner.”
For the new season, Universal Television has a number of hot frosh prospects for the Peacock: dramas “Prime Suspect,” “Smash” and “Grimm” and comedies “Whitney,” “Up All Night,” “Free Agents,” “Bent” and “Best Friends Forever.”
At present, the only non-NBC series on the Universal TV roster is Fox’s “House,” a show that predates the 2004 merger of NBC and Universal.