NBCUniversal: Speculation Swirls Around Top Execs for Entertainment Programming Post

Comcast Universal
Michael Buckner for Variety

Rarely has a high-level TV-exec job opening been announced quite so loudly.

When NBCUniversal pulled the trigger on a massive reorganization of its television business last week, the company made clear that one key position in the new structure had yet to be filled — a new head of entertainment programming who would oversee creative decisions for NBC, cable channels including USA and Bravo, and fledgling streaming service Peacock. A version of that role had, as Variety reported prior to the reorg, been offered to Netflix local-language originals chief Bela Bajaria, who turned it down.

But when the job opening was effectively posted on Thursday, speculation immediately began swirling about who might ultimately land the role.

The internal name most commonly being surfaced is that of Pearlena Igbokwe, president of Universal Television. A highly regarded creative executive, Igbokwe runs a studio that has produced multiple series for outside streamers, most recently “Little America” for Apple TV Plus, “Four Weddings and a Funeral” for Hulu, and “Russian Doll” for Netflix. Igbokwe also previously served as head of drama development at NBC, so she understands the inner working of the still-valuable broadcast network.

But sources at NBCUniversal have waved off rumors of Igbokwe’s elevation. One reason is that the exec may be in line for another job — succeeding her boss Bonnie Hammer, who oversees both UTV and Universal Content Productions, should Hammer retire at the end of her current contract next year.

Another name now being floated is that of Kevin Reilly, who just last week was pushed out as head of content for HBO Max and the Turner cable networks. Hiring Reilly wold do nothing to immediately improve upper-level diversity at NBCUniversal following the exit of NBC Entertainment chairman Paul Telegdy amid allegations of racist, sexist, and homophobic behavior. But as a veteran TV exec, Reilly served previous stints as programming president for Fox and NBC, and his recent turn with Max, albeit short, gives him insight into developing content for streaming. Reilly is said to have met with NBCU officials about the job prior to his exit from WarnerMedia.

Susan Rovner, president of Warner Bros. Television, is also believed to have been approached about the role. Rovner’s name enters the mix amid massive restructuring at WarnerMedia that is impacting Warner Bros. and its television operations with heavy layoffs. Channing Dungey, VP of original content at Netflix and former president of ABC Entertainment, is also said to be the subject of interest from NBCU. But although Dungey, popular and respected in the Hollywood creative community, has often been at the top of employers’ wish lists, it is unclear whether she could be tempted to leave Netflix, which has weathered the pandemic-fueled recession better than nearly any pure media company.

Other executives are believed to be under consideration as well. No decision has yet been made regarding who will fill the vacant position. An NBCU spokesperson declined to comment.

One factor that may hinder NBCU as it attempts to zero in on a top-tier candidate is the manner in which the search has spilled into public view. News that Bajaria turned the job down means that whoever accepts it will be known to have not been the company’s first choice. And in announcing the restructure, NBCUniversal assigned many senior duties for cable and broadcast — including spending and windowing — to Frances Berwick, who was named head of a newly formed entertainment business unit.

Whoever ends up with the programming job will have to be comfortable sharing authority with Berwick, a cable veteran whose programming strengths lie in unscripted. But in the current environment, with job security everywhere challenged as media companies streamline, that might not be a bad prospect.

Joe Otterson and Michael Schneider contributed to this report.