Universal Television chief Pearlena Igbokwe has been elevated to head of TV content for NBCUniversal as part of the broader shakeup of NBCU’s senior executive ranks. Bonnie Hammer, the NBCU veteran who had been overseeing all TV production, segues into the NBCU vice chairman role that was hastily vacated last month by Ron Meyer.
The shuffle in NBCUniversal’s content group comes at the same time the company is poised to bring in longtime Warner Bros. TV executive Susan Rovner as head of programming for NBC, USA Network, Bravo, E! and the rest of the entertainment outlets in NBCU’s cable portfolio, plus the fledgling Peacock streamer. Rovner has formally announced her exit from Warner Bros. TV as of Oct. 2 and is in the final stages of negotiating a deal with NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell and Mark Lazarus, NBCU’s chairman of television and streaming.
The promotion for Igbokwe recognizes her success over the past four years as head of Universal Television. Hammer’s move is a nod to her years of dedication to NBCU and its predecessor companies as well as the depth of her industry knowledge and connections.
Igbokwe will serve as chairman of Universal Studio Group, which encompasses Universal Television, Universal Cable Productions and NBCUniversal International Studios. She reports to Shell. Hammer, who has set a new employment contract with NBCU, will also continue to report to Shell.
“Our television studios are key growth engines for the company, and Pearlena is ideally suited to lead them. She has extraordinary taste and is well-respected within NBCU, and throughout the global creative community,” Shell said. “I am extremely pleased to be gaining Bonnie as a trusted advisor. Her deep industry experience, impeccable creative instincts and 25-plus years of prosocial advocacy will be immensely valuable to me and our company.”
Shell took the reins as CEO of NBCU in January and has steadily reshaped NBCUniversal’s executive ranks.
Igbokwe has been a rising star since she joined NBC Entertainment as head of drama development in 2012, having spent 20 years before that as a creative executive at Showtime. She moved up to become president of Universal Television in 2016.
Igbokwe was seen as the logical internal candidate for the top TV programming job as NBCU overhauled its executive ranks. But sources close to the situation said Igbokwe let it be known she preferred to stay on the content side closer to the production process. The promotion also makes Igbokwe one of the highest-ranking Black executives in the U.S. television biz.
Hammer, meanwhile, is moving into the consiglieri role that Meyer capably held for years under Shell’s predecessor, Steve Burke. Meyer was hastily forced out last month after disclosing that he had years earlier reached a private settlement with a woman who he asserted sought to extort him.
“Over the course of my career at NBCUniversal, I have been fortunate to touch every aspect of the television business and I am ready to take on this new corporate role. It is the perfect next chapter and I am delighted to pass the baton to Pearlena,” Hammer said. “She has a long track record of success and is the ideal person to take the helm of the studio group.”
Hammer has the industry gravitas and connections to be a counselor and strategist for Shell. She’s been with NBCUniversal and its predecessor companies since 1989, starting out at USA Network in the formative years of the basic cable boom. After a long run atop NBCU’s cable entertainment group, she was tapped to help get the Peacock streamer up and running in early 2018. Last October, she was named chairman of NBCUniversal Content Studios in October 2019.
Igbokwe’s track record at NBC included developing “The Blacklist” and Dick Wolf’s “Chicago” procedural drama franchises. On her watch, Universal Television has delivered such series as NBC’s “The Good Place,” “Superstore” and “New Amsterdam” as well as Netflix’s “Russian Doll” and CBS’ “FBI” and “FBI: Most Wanted.”
(Pictured: Pearlena Igbokwe and Bonnie Hammer)