NBC Entertainment prexy Jeff Zucker is making some new friends to help him deal with the looming loss of “Friends.”
With the Peacock still firmly in first place among young adults, Zucker Tuesday shook up his exec team, recruiting FX entertainment prexy Kevin Reilly to fill a new post overseeing both NBC Studios and the net’s development department.
Reilly will have broad powers to develop new programming, including the ability to greenlight both scripts and pilots — a power usually reserved for entertainment prexies or higher. Zucker said Reilly will have free reign to shape the net’s future development slates.
Move had been expected for several months, with speculation about Reilly’s hiring kicking into overdrive in recent weeks (Daily Variety, May 28.) Most industry insiders believe Reilly will replace Zucker as head of entertainment by next summer, with Zucker taking on a larger role at the Peacock. Neither Zucker nor Reilly said anything Tuesday to dampen such talk.
“If I didn’t think he was someone who could eventually replace me, I wouldn’t have hired him,” Zucker said, noting that he’s “not going anywhere.”
As part of the overall Peacock exec reorganization, NBC’s development team and NBC Studios are being streamlined under Reilly. Among the changes:
- Drama senior VP Angela Bromstad is being upped to exec VP of NBC Studios, reporting to Reilly.
- Cheryl Dolins, who had been VP of primetime series for NBC Studios, has been upped to senior VP of comedy development for NBC Entertainment. She replaces JoAnn Alfano, who now heads NBC-based Broadway Video’s TV unit.
- Katherine Pope, formerly VP of primetime series for NBC Studios, will now serve as VP of drama development at NBC Entertainment. She reports to drama senior VP Chris Conti.
- Renate Radford has been tapped to serve as manager of primetime series for NBC Studios, reporting to Bromstad.
- As expected, veteran programmer Ted Harbert is ankling NBC Studios, while development chief Karey Burke is also leaving her post, most likely to form a production shingle with former ABC Entertainment prexy Jamie Tarses (Daily Variety, June 3.) That production pod is expected to be based at NBC, though other studios are interested.
- Reilly’s direct oversight will stick to only development concerns. Still reporting to Zucker will be daytime and latenight, as well as the Peacock’s NBC Agency (John Miller and Vince Manze), current programming department (under Ted Frank), scheduling (led by Mitch Metcalf) and Jeff Gaspin’s wide array of responsibilities (alternative, longform, Bravo).
The shuffle marks the first wholesale executive change at NBC in a number of years and the first major structural changes by Zucker since he took over as NBC Entertainment prexy in 2001.
Zucker couldn’t have recruited Reilly at a better time. The exec is riding the crest of a wave that began with FX’s gritty Emmy-winning drama “The Shield,” and more recently, the John Corbett Vegas-set dramedy “Lucky.”
The cable net is next set to unveil “Nip/Tuck,” an ensemble drama based around the world of plastic surgery that is already garnering positive notice.
NBC, meanwhile, is about to undergo drastic changes of its own, and the upcoming development season will be critical to the net’s longterm, post-“Friends” and “Frasier” health.
“When somebody like Kevin becomes available you jump all over it,” Zucker said. “He has a unique ability to develop commercial and critically successful shows, and that’s clearly what we’re after here.”
Outside observers believe Zucker is also adding a layer of insulation between himself and NBC’s primetime sked should the post-“Friends” era turn out to be tougher than expected (though rumors of the Peacock’s imminent demise have long proven to be unfounded.)
Zucker dismissed that notion.
“At the end of the day, I understand this is all my responsibility,” he said. “You let people do their jobs, but we’re all in this together. I don’t hang people out to dry.”
Reilly had secured solid footing at News Corp., thanks to his hand in turning FX from a moribund basic cabler into a buzz-centric net. But sources believe the emotional call of NBC was too strong a pull for the exec, who spent six years at the Peacock from the late 1980s to the mid 1990s.
Reilly may also be itching to climb back into the broadcast big leagues after paying his dues as the president of Brad Grey’s TV shingle and as entertainment prexy at FX.
“I’d be lying if I said sentiment didn’t factor in; it’s great to go back where you started,” Reilly said. “But it wouldn’t be a wise business decision if that’s what ultimately dictated it. I looked at NBC as it being a very opportune time to come back, for the very reason some would find it a perilous time or a crossroads of sorts.”
Under the watch of Reilly and FX Networks prexy/CEO Peter Ligouri, shows like “The Shield” and even “Son of the Beach” put FX on the map as a basic cable destination for original series. Net also jumped into the telepic business; its most recent entry, “44 Minutes: The North Hollywood Shootout,” became the highest-rated program in FX history.
Of course, the net suffered a few missteps as well, including the ill-fated development of “Bad News, Mr. Swanson,” which was given a 13-episode order but later dropped due to casting issues.
Reilly was first recruited to FX in August 2000 to essentially turn the channel — then coasting on the fumes of off-net 20th Century Fox TV-produced dramas — into a basic cable version of HBO. The parting is said to be amicable, although both sides are still ironing out Reilly’s exit.
Exec’s deal isn’t up until September, and for now, he’s being asked to fulfill the length of his FX contract. It’s likely, however, that Reilly will be at NBC by late summer.
“For the past three years, Kevin has been a key member of the FX team and he has done a fantastic job of developing quality original programming that has enhanced the network’s profile and brand,” Ligouri said. “I appreciate our friendship and I have the highest regard for him as a professional.”
Endeavor partner Richard Weitz said NBC had helped its cause by snagging Reilly.
“Kevin has great creative instincts, and he’s always been outstanding in the way he’s dealt with his business and with talent,” Weitz said. “That’s shown in the way he took a fledgling network and put it on the map.”
With his contract up, Reilly had a number of career options available to him, such as sticking at FX, taking the top Showtime programming job or moving to NBC.
Ultimately, he said sticking with FX would have been the “safe choice.” After all, he noted, FX has turned into a hot place to work — a marked change from the network he joined three years ago.
“It’s with a bit of sentiment that I leave the place,” he said. “Peter Ligouri was a partner and a mentor. But ultimately I don’t think safe is ever the best bet. That’s what attracted me to NBC.”
No FX raids
Despite rumors to the contrary, Reilly said he wouldn’t be enlisting any of his FX lieutenants to join him at NBC.
“I would not on an ethical level raid the place right now,” he said.
With the new executive team in place at NBC, Reilly said he expected the Peacock will be “galvanized” next season, “which usually leads to success.” “This is a hungry, focused team,” he said.
Noting that NBC Studios began its life as a part of the network’s development department, Reilly called the new structure “back to the future.” “The more streamlined you can be in the development process, the better,” he said.
As for the future of FX, Reilly doesn’t expect the net to miss a beat.
“As valuable as I think I am, the walls are not going to cave in over at FX,” he said. “There the cupboard is not bare.”
Prior to FX, Reilly helped build Brillstein-Grey’s (later Brad Grey’s) TV operations, developing hit skeins such as “The Sopranos,” “Just Shoot Me” and “NewsRadio.” Reilly first joined the company in 1994, working his way up to president in 1999.
Reilly’s NBC years included working on the launch of seminal skeins such as “Homicide” and “ER” as the net’s VP of drama development. He started at the Peacock in 1988 as manager of creative affairs, helping develop the teenybopper classic “Saved by the Bell.”
Deal to bring Reilly to NBC was brokered by attorney Ernie Del.