This article was updated at 8:06 p.m.
CBS/UPN reality guru Ghen Maynard is returning to his scripted roots, ankling the Eye to become exec VP of primetime development at NBC.
Maynard will serve as one of incoming Peacock entertainment prexy Kevin Reilly’s top lieutenants, overseeing development for both comedy and drama. Reilly, who has been in charge of development this season, will move up to entertainment chief later this month (Daily Variety, May 4).
Jeff Gaspin, soon to be upped to a senior role overseeing all of NBC Universal’s cable properties, will continue to oversee alternative programming at NBC in conjunction with Reilly. A day-to-day NBC reality exec is expected to be named as well.
Known for being an early champion of the Eye’s megahit “Survivor,” Maynard had unscripted successes at CBS/UPN including “Big Brother,” “The Amazing Race” and “America’s Next Top Model.”
Word of Maynard’s move caught most TV insiders by surprise, though many were already praising the move as out-of-the-box thinking by Reilly.
While Maynard has a background in drama, he’s largely unknown to much of the scripted community of writers and agents. What’s more, it’s rare for Eye execs to leave the CBS cocoon.
But it’s the Eye’s enormous exec stability that may have led to Maynard’s decision to leave.
Net has the most established comedy and drama teams in town, with top executives in both departments well entrenched and unlikely to leave CBS any time soon. If Maynard wanted to expand beyond the unscripted world, it would have been tough to do so at CBS.
Maynard apparently has been itching to get back into the written realm for a while. His last contract with CBS included an exit clause that allowed him to leave if offered a top scripted development job.
“I’ve been expressing an interest in this for a while,” Maynard said. “I’ve loved reality, but I also love scripted development. And television is the sum of all parts, scripted and unscripted. It’s all about good programming and good storytelling.”
Reilly doesn’t believe Maynard will be hindered by the fact that he’s not already on every comedy agent’s speed dial.
“Ghen’s about the business, he’s not about the schmooze,” Reilly said. “The conventional wisdom is to go for someone who’s done it before and come up the track. I think you go with people who’ve had success, who have good instincts.”
Looking at the forest
Maynard will take pitches and act as Reilly’s proxy in certain situations, buying some projects. His larger mandate, however, will be to serve as “someone who’s going to keep an eye on the big picture and help us see where we’re going.”
Several other changes are expected in the NBC programming department in coming weeks as the season comes to a close and the NBC Universal merger closes.
Exact start date for Maynard hasn’t been determined, though it could be as late as July, Reilly said.
Reilly and Maynard have known each other for quite a while. Maynard wrote to Reilly nearly a decade ago, when Reilly was drama chief at NBC and Maynard was looking to leave Boston and the publishing biz. In response, Reilly called Maynard and set up a meeting.
“He gave me a lot of great advice, and it’s nice to come full circle,” Maynard said.
Even though Maynard is headed for the Eye’s chief rival, CBS topper Les Moonves indicated he understood Maynard’s decision.
“Ghen was a very valuable exec at CBS,” Moonves told Daily Variety. “He put us on the map in reality. He’s a good man who did a good job.”
Is Wong right?
It’s unclear who will replace Maynard as reality chief at the Eye. Immediate speculation centered around ABC reality chief Andrea Wong, though some industry insiders believe that if Wong were to leave her post, she’s more likely to hold out for a bigger gig outside of the unscripted biz.
Maynard admitted leaving CBS for NBC was “a bittersweet” experience. “As excited as I am about NBC, it’s very hard to leave here,” he said, calling Moonves a mentor.
Maynard was the first head of the Eye’s alternative department, tapped by Moonves to lead the unscripted charge in 2000, just weeks after the bow of “Survivor,” the skein that started the current reality revolution.
“Ghen immediately saw what ‘Survivor’ could become and went to Les with it,” Mark Burnett, exec producer of “Survivor,” said of Maynard back in 2000. “(He) felt it would be the first time an unscripted TV show could really become a drama.”
Four years later, Burnett — who is now active in scripted series, including the NBC drama contender “Eden” — said Maynard will be “great over there” in a new role.
“His dramatic roots really helped all of us think through the dramatic arc on ‘Survivor’ and allowed us to make sure it was an unscripted drama and not a reality project,” Burnett said Wednesday.
One top scripted agent welcomed Reilly’s decision to hire Maynard, noting, “There’s a lack of great executives out there” on the scripted side.
“The business is changing, and a lot of the other people who might have once been a candidate for this job now have pod deals,” the agent said.
Maynard joined CBS in 1997, initially serving as manager of drama development. He was a post-production coordinator at ABC Prods. before that.