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Wallace shifting to NBC stations slot

WCAU exec filling Sassa's shoes

Pat Wallace, VP and general manager of NBC-owned WCAU in Philadelphia, has been tapped to take over from Scott Sassa as president of the NBC Television Stations, the web is expected to announce today.

Wallace’s appointment comes in the wake of Monday’s Peacock exec shuffle in which Sassa was named to replace Warren Littlefield as head of NBC Entertainment, putting in motion a transition which will end next year with Sassa taking over for NBC West Coast president Don Ohlmeyer (Daily Variety, Oct. 26).

Sassa assumed his new role as president of NBC Entertainment Monday morning. He’ll report directly to Ohlmeyer, eventually transitioning into Ohlmeyer’s position when Ohlmeyer’s contract expires at the end of next year.

As part of his exit deal, Littlefield is forming his own production company, which will be a joint venture with NBC. The untitled company will not be based on NBC’s Burbank lot, but will develop shows intended for air on the web.

Littlefield, who will head the new venture, will be able to shop his shows to other webs if NBC passes on a particular project.

The changes mark the end of the Ohlmeyer/Littlefield partnership, which saw NBC rise from third to first on the strength of hits such as “ER,” “Friends,” “Mad About You” and, not least of all, the now-departed “Seinfeld.”

NBC prexy and CEO Bob Wright, who announced Monday’s changes, said the exec shuffle was prompted by Ohlmeyer’s decision to leave the web at the end of his current deal.

“Once Don made that decision, we realized that we had to have a succession plan in place,” Wright said.

Littlefield was never a candidate to replace Ohlmeyer, according to Wright, who said Littlefield’s strength as “a hands-on developer … wasn’t compatible with Don’s job.”

Sassa, by contrast, “is a very unusual blend of business and creative thinking,” said Wright. “He’s had a lot of breadth in his decision-making.”

‘Multichannel background’

Wright also praised Sassa for having a “multichannel background,” noting Sassa’s resume includes both overseeing multiple cable nets while at Turner and working on the launch of the Fox Broadcasting Co. with Rupert Murdoch and Barry Diller.

In his role as president of the NBC Television Stations, Sassa has also gained an understanding of the local TV biz, Wright noted.

The Peacock exec shuffle comes as the web grapples with numerous woes, including eroding ratings, exploding programming costs and the absence of two past audience grabbers: NFL football and “Seinfeld.” Indeed, NBC — albeit opposite World Series competish on Fox and an all-repeat Thursday sked — is expected to be in third or fourth place in households when last week’s Nielsen numbers are released today.

NBC, and Littlefield in particular, have also been criticized for failing to adequately use the web’s Thursday-night megahit lineup as a springboard for launching new hits, instead greenlighting flops such as “The Single Guy” and “Union Square.” Many industry observers believe the lack of any real new hits in recent years ultimately cost Littlefield his job.

“Someone had to take the fall,” said one high-ranking studio source. “The ratings are taking a slide, and their development has not been great. They have to position for the future.”

Still, NBC’s management shuffle appears to be relatively reasoned and thought-out compared with most network exec shakeups, which are usually hasty, reactionary moves made after a web has slipped far behind in the ratings. Ohlmeyer comes out looking particularly good, industry observers say, noting that the exec has essentially been allowed to leave on his own terms and appoint his own successor.

Ohlmeyer, noting jokingly that “a lot of people are surprised that I stayed as long as I did,” said he’s getting out of the exec biz because of a desire to get back to developing programs.

“I’ve never really been an executive,” he told Daily Variety. “I miss doing shows. You can dress me up and take me out to fancy places, but at my heart, I’m a carpenter.”

Longtime relationship

As for Sassa, “Scott and I have been very close for a long time,” he said, noting that Sassa worked for him when Ohlmeyer owned his own production company and that he “was very supportive of (Sassa) coming into the company” because he felt Sassa might make an appropriate successor.

Despite public comments as recently as six months ago stating he had no plans to step down, Littlefield Monday said he’s been contemplating a career change since last December, when Jerry Seinfeld informed him he was quitting his NBC laffer.

“I said to him, ‘I thought we had a partnership’ and he said … ‘It’s probably time you start thinking about what you want to do with the rest of your life,'” Littlefield recalled.

“At some point you do have to realize that there’s an end … It was becoming less fun for me,” he added. “I really got comfortable with the notion of moving on.”

As for Wallace, he was tapped to head WCAU in 1995, joining the newly acquired NBC O&O from the Peacock’s Chicago station, WMAQ. Wallace had been at WMAQ since 1991, having spent six months in New Zealand as COO of TV3.

A 21-year-NBC vet, Wallace spent seven years at the net’s Los Angeles O&O, KNBC, and also worked at WNBC, the Peacock’s Gotham flagship.