Ben Silverman and Marc Graboff will share a title — but it’s Silverman who will bear the burden of lifting NBC out of the ratings basement.
Ending days of rumors and speculation, NBC Universal prexy-CEO Jeff Zucker tapped Silverman and Graboff on Tuesday to fill the newly created roles of co-chairmen for both NBC Entertainment and NBC U TV Studio. They’ll both report to Zucker.
Angela Bromstad, who has held the title of prexy at the studio, will leave for another gig within the company, most likely running a new international arm in London (Daily Variety, May 29). Zucker is expected to name a new studio chief.
Katherine Pope, Reilly’s highly respected chief development exec, has been asked to stay on. Whether she’ll do so, and in what capacity, remains to be seen, but the betting is she will stay.
Kevin Reilly, as expected, stepped down as entertainment prexy on Tuesday. Silverman won’t immediately name a replacement for him but held open the possibility of doing so in the future. Zucker is expected to name a new head of studio operations. For now, however, Zucker made it clear that Silverman will be the chief creative officer at NBC.
“He will take the lead in all major programming (decisions). He’s the leader of the entertainment division,” Zucker said.
NBC U supremo said he looked to the feature world for inspiration in restructuring his Burbank exec team, noting the successful collaboration of former Warner Bros. leaders Bob Daly and Terry Semel. He also cited the current pairing of Universal Pictures co-toppers Marc Shmuger and David Linde.
Latter partnership “has been a big win and a big success for us. It’s something Ron Meyer put together, and it works well. And there has never been a better tenure than Daly and Semel,” Zucker said.
Despite indications over the weekend that NBC planned to buy Silverman’s Reveille banner, Zucker said that option was never on the table.
Company will continue to exist as a stand-alone entity, but with Silverman no longer involved in new projects. NBC Universal has extended its first-look deal with Reveille for two years.
Zucker said he decided to go after Silverman now — three months after reupping Reilly — for one reason: Silverman was suddenly available.
About two weeks ago, “I became aware of the fact that Ben was considering what to do with his career and what the next phase in his life would be,” Zucker said, referring to buzz that Silverman’s company was being pursued by other congloms and private equity firms.
Zucker said he had long felt Silverman would be a good fit for NBC, but that Silverman “had never been interested.” Now, with Silverman ready to make a change, Zucker pounced.
Serious talks began last week and sped up once an anonymous tipster leaked word of a possible shakeup to Daily Variety, the Los Angeles Times and other outlets around 9:45 Friday morning.
“We moved quickly and decisively,” Zucker said. “If we hadn’t done it now, we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do it later.”
Barry Diller, who has a stake in Reveille, was involved in the negotiations to shift Silverman from Reveille to NBC.
Silverman said he accepted Zucker’s offer despite the fact that it reps a pay cut for him.
“I am taking a massive financial hit, which is a testament to how passionate I am about this job,” Silverman told Daily Variety.
Newly created co-chair positions give Silverman and Graboff responsibility for primetime, latenight and daytime, as well as NBC’s digital efforts. They’ll also oversee marketing and business affairs for the network and the studio.
Broad scope of Silverman’s and Graboff’s power make it clear that Zucker has created a completely new role for Silverman, with Reilly exiting after realizing he had received another strong vote of no confidence from Zucker.
“No other structure like this exists anywhere else in Hollywood,” Silverman said, noting the digital component of his job will be key.
Zucker said combining the network, studio and digital domains into one job will give Silverman “the opportunity to redefine our programming, our relationship with advertisers and our ongoing commitment to the new digital frontier.”
Silverman noted he “grew up watching NBC and have always loved this network. So this is a dream job for me.”
Graboff praised his new partner as “a brilliant producer and a true out-of-the-box thinker who wants to change the business model of this industry. We complement each other very well.”
Tuesday afternoon, Graboff, Silverman and Zucker met with NBC staffers to explain the moves. Silverman evoked Brandon Tartikoff’s name, saying the late NBC programmer taught him the importance of passion.
Silverman vowed to make NBC the successful net its staffers want it to be and said he had ideas about how the Peacock should take on big guns such as “American Idol.”
As for Reilly, Zucker said the departed exec “has given us some incredibly important, high-quality new series in recent years, and his legacy will be evident for many years to come in NBC’s primetime schedule.”
Zucker wouldn’t get into the specifics surrounding Reilly’s departure, saying only that Reilly asked to be let out of his contract and that he didn’t stand in his way.
Reilly also declined to discuss his exit from the net but did say he was proud of the shows he left behind.
“I think there are shows there that are among the best in television and that will stand the best of time,” he told Daily Variety. “The brand had drifted away from what NBC was known for. When I came back, I would never hear anyone say they love NBC. By the end, I heard it consistently.”
Reilly conceded that the new hits “didn’t amount to big enough overall ratings yet. But I know we delivered shows that were people’s favorites, and that’s a start.”
Reilly’s departure was greeted with disappointment in many circles, with even rival execs praising his track record at NBC.
“Heroes,” “My Name Is Earl” and “The Office” are all “must-see TV,” said ABC Entertainment prexy Steve McPherson. ” ‘Fear Factor’ is not.”
McPherson said NBC will be worse off without Reilly.
“Kevin brought class and quality back to NBC, (and) he had the balls to back the stuff he believed in,” said McPherson, who’s been friends with Reilly for years. “He delivered about a hit every year, and I don’t know what more you can ask of an entertainment president.”
As for Pope, Graboff made it clear that if she wants to stay at NBC, the Peacock wants to keep her around.
“She’s a key part of the senior team,” said Graboff. “We want her to stay and hope she’ll stay.”
Pope’s future has been up in the air since last week, when she and other Peacock staffers were told the network and studio wouldn’t be folded into one unit as had been expected.
Under that scenario, Pope would’ve become the key exec on the production side. She was unhappy with the change in course, leading to some tense moments with senior NBC management.