Peacock feathers its prexy’s nest

Sassa segues to consultant role

After more than a year of speculation, NBC has finally removed Scott Sassa as its top West Coast entertainment exec, handing over all his responsibilities to Peacock entertainment prexy Jeff Zucker.

Sassa will remain a Los Angeles-based consultant to NBC, working with NBC chairman/CEO Bob Wright and NBC prexy/chief operations officer Andy Lack on “new business ventures.” Sassa and Wright are still working out what Sassa’s specific job might entail.

Zucker keeps his current title but takes on oversight of numerous divisions, including NBC Studios, the NBC Agency and NBC Enterprises.

It had been widely assumed since last winter that Sassa would be leaving his post as West Coast topper by June (Daily Variety, Feb. 4).

Move won’t change much in Hollywood, as Zucker has basically been running the show since he got to L.A. in January 2001. Sassa remained in the loop on key decisions, but the town’s power brokers knew Zucker had to be on board for any major piece of business.

Zucker, however, has now cemented his role as the Peacock’s most powerful Los Angeles-based exec, with a new post that puts him on a par with ABC’s Lloyd Braun and Fox’s Sandy Grushow (though the latter controls a much larger production entity in 20th Century Fox Television).

Lack said the restructuring returns NBC to a more traditional exec setup, where the entertainment prexy reigns supreme. The West Coast topper post was created for Don Ohlmeyer, who was brought in to help Warren Littlefield run NBC during the 1990s.

“The old model is the new model,” Lack said.

Vertical integration

What’s more, with the success of the Peacock’s primetime lineup more closely aligned than ever with the work of NBC Studios and NBC Enterprises, having all divisions under the control of one exec seemed logical.

“It becomes more and more valuable to have decisions on programming made at the highest level possible,” Wright said. “It’s time for this structure.”

Zucker said it “makes sense” to have NBC Studios and NBC Enterprises “totally integrated” within NBC Entertainment.

“It’s a recognition that the business is changing, and that inhouse production, syndication and primetime all affect each other in a way they didn’t even five years ago,” he said.

Despite persistent speculation that NBC Studios topper Ted Harbert is on his way out, Zucker affirmed his support for Harbert, as well as the Peacock’s entire top-level management, including execs heading up current programming and development.

“We’re going to go forward (next season) with the exact same team in place,” Zucker said. “Our stability has been the key to our success.”

Now what?

As for Sassa, Wright confirmed that the two had mutually decided last December that it was time for him to move on. Sassa agreed to stay on through the end of the season.

What hasn’t been clear is what role, if any, Sassa would have within the Peacock. Making things murkier: widespread reports of disagreements between Lack and Sassa, as well as Lack and Wright.

Sassa’s role remains undefined, though Wright said he hopes to find new ways for Sassa to contribute to NBC.

“We’d like him to consider some other things, but we just haven’t reached an agreement yet on what that will be,” Wright said. “We have a lot of business opportunities at NBC.”

Wright added that Sassa has other opportunities and said that the net “does not have a (contractual) hold on Scott.”

Sassa conceded that his new role remains “vague,” but said that he and Wright will continue discussing various ideas over the next few weeks.

As for his exit, Sassa said he’s always wanted to leave his post at a time when the network was on top. With the net having achieved an overwhelming demo win for the just-concluded 2001-02 season, now seemed to be the right moment to bow out.

“I’ve been here when we’ve been in second place,” he said. “It’s just not fun. I always hope to leave a place in better shape than when I got there.”

Sassa has been based in Los Angeles since 1998, when he was named prexy of NBC Entertainment. He was upped to West Coast topper in May 1999.

While he enjoyed the competitive aspects of the position, Sassa conceded that overseeing primetime development was not something he was born to do.

“It was a tremendously fun job, but it’s not totally matched to my skillset,” he said.

Reality blame game

Indeed, while Sassa has maintained good relations with most of his NBC bosses, Gotham-based Peacock execs blamed Sassa for the net’s late arrival to the unscripted programming party. Peacock also hasn’t had much luck developing a monster hit comedy in several years.

Sassa said he’s much more interested in gigs that are more entrepreneurial in nature, where he can help “build brands from scratch.”

Wright praised Sassa for “managing a transitional period (between the Ohlmeyer and Zucker eras) well.”

As for reports of tension between Lack and Wright, the two men did a round of media interviews together Wednesday regarding the Sassa/Zucker restructuring — perhaps trying to send the message that all’s well within the NBC corporate suites.

When asked about the state of their relationship, Wright and Lack sounded upbeat.

“We have distinct challenges and we deal with them well,” Wright said. “Don’t believe everything you read.”

Added Lack: “We’re in good shape.”