Leslie Moonves may know what he’ll be doing for the next five years — but he doesn’t have a lot of company.
Unlike the newly-minted Eye chairman and CEO, an unusually large number of network and studio execs find themselves on the bubble as the frenzied development rush of late spring draws to a close. It will soon give way to the annual summer shuffling of TV’s exec suites, which promises to be more intense than usual.There’s no one reason for all this anticipated activity in the management ranks. A number of contracts are simply up for renewal, while there’s always change at nets that aren’t performing as well as they ought to be.
Among the potential shakeups:
- All eyes will be on ABC this June, particularly if the net finishes fourth for the season in key demos. While Alphabet suits can rightly point to year-to-year Nielsen progress, there’s a sense that the mild momentum of last fall has given way to a springtime ratings malaise.
Just about anyone at the net’s Burbank HQ is vulnerable– including toppers Lloyd Braun and Susan Lyne– but drama chief Thom Sherman seems particularly shaky. Though well-liked within ABC, none of his dramas popped this season. His fate could ride on how well his new crop of pilots is received.
- NBC Entertainment prexy Jeff Zucker seems poised to shake up his development team, though it’s worth noting past predictions of Peacock upheaval have proven false. Wildcard this time: Zucker is expected to move back to Gotham for a bigger NBC job sometime within the next year, prompting endless chatter about his potential replacement.
Ditto NBC Studios chief Ted Harbert, whose deal comes up this summer. He may leave as part of a larger exec shuffle that could see a new gig for Peacock exec VP Karey Burke and the possible exit of comedy chief Joanne Alfano to work at Lorne Michaels’ Broadway Video.
- Showtime is looking for someone to replace outgoing programming chief Jerry Offsay, and that move could spark another round of exec changes. FX topper Kevin Reilly, whose deal at the buzzworthy basic cabler is up soon, is often mentioned as a leading candidate for the gig — as well as gigs at NBC and elsewhere. Most believe he’ll stay put, but all the talk about his exiting doesn’t hurt his chances of getting a nice raise from Rupert Murdoch.
- Touchstone TV prexy Steve McPherson has another year left on his deal but that hasn’t stopped his name from being bandied about for a host of posts. He’s probably not going anywhere, though it would be ironic if Disney, which let McPherson-developed hits like “CSI” and “Scrubs” get away, ended up losing one of its most well-regarded young execs.
- Universal TV programming prexy Sarah Timberman is weighing an offer to stay on at the studio, but has met with others about the idea of setting up her own shingle.
Indeed, for many execs, the get-it-done-yesterday philosophy that governs so many studios and nets these days has simply grown tiresome.
Ex-ABC execs Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner were among the first — and most high-profile — execs in the modern era to shed their suits in favor of setting up their own production shingle.
Through the years, most execs-cum-producers changed careers more out of necessity than desire.
Network toppers like Fred Silverman, Grant Tinker (who was an exec-turned-producer-turned-exec-turned-producer), Fred Pierce and Brandon Tartikoff all tried their hand at production after their network careers ended.
More recently, Warren Littlefield, Tony Jonas and Jamie Tarses turned to the production world when their number was up at their web or studio.
But these days, production deals aren’t just parachutes for misplaced execs. A whole generation of mid-level network and studio execs have opted to strike out on their own rather than put up with the increasingly corporate culture inside the congloms.
“The reason why we did it is we love production, and when you’re an exec you don’t get that close to it,” says Greenblatt/Janollari Studios’ Bob Greenblatt, a former Fox exec who joined forces with ex-Warner Bros. TV suit David Janollari in 1997.
More recently, development execs such as David Nevins, Nina Wass and Gene Stein, Michael Hanel and Mindy Schultheis, and John Landgraf passed on sticking with an exec job when their contracts were up.
“The transition to becoming a producer is a natural one,” Greenblatt says. “A lot of smart execs give good notes on editing rough cuts, casting, on the development process and how to work with the net. Those are all the things that producers do.”
Of course, some execs thrive on the adrenaline rush that comes from a net or studio job.
“You go from all the perks and getting 100 calls a day to a very different situation,” says one studio honcho-turned-producer. “You have to put your ego aside and do what’s going to make you happy.”