NBCUniversal Focuses on Layoffs and Streamlining as NBC’s Paul Telegdy Faces Probe

Netflix's Bela Bajaria turned down overture for top programming post

Comcast Universal
Michael Buckner for Variety

NBCUniversal is stepping up efforts to reorganize its top leadership structure with the goal of streamlining content and programming operations as it prepares for significant layoffs across the company.

At the same time, NBCU is poised to launch an investigation into allegations that NBC Entertainment chairman Paul Telegdy has made racist, sexist and homophobic statements and questionable behaviors that have alienated some employees.

Multiple sources close to the situation said Bela Bajaria, Netflix’s VP of local language originals and an NBCU alumnus, was approached within the last month by senior NBCU executives about taking a job that would have involved oversight of the NBC broadcast network as well as other cablers in the NBCU fold including USA Network, Syfy and Bravo. Bajaria is understood to have turned down the overture. She declined to comment on the matter late Monday.

The approach to Bajaria underscores the focus of newly appointed NBCU chief executive Jeff Shell on streamlining content and programming operations. Particularly on the cable side, NBCU is under pressure to cut costs as the once-robust market for ad-supported cable channels starts to shrink amid cord cutting and the rise of subscription and free streaming services. Bajaria was a top Universal TV production executive from 2011 through 2016, when she was elbowed out in a reorganization. She joined Netflix in October 2016.

Telegdy has been under pressure for months amid public complaints about his behavior from Gabrielle Union, a former judge on the NBC talent competition series “America’s Got Talent.” On July 31, the Hollywood Reporter reported that numerous NBCU insiders past and present have accused Telegdy and others in his inner circle of making offensive and boorish statements, in addition to allegations that Telegdy at times put undue pressure on NBC talent, including Union.

Telegdy has been with NBC since 2008. He rose to head of alternative programming in 2011 and was promoted to co-chairman of NBC Entertainment in September 2018. Last October, Telegdy went solo as former co-chair George Cheeks exited NBCU for the top job at CBS.

Within NBCUniversal, discussions are have been taking place this week to determine who will oversee that investigation, what form it will take and on what timetable. Those decisions, a source tells Variety, are likely to be finalized within the next few days.

Speculation about content and programming leadership shifts in the NBCU restructuring has centered on highly regarded senior executives including Pearlena Igbokwe, president of the Universal Television studio operation, and Igbokwe’s boss, Bonnie Hammer, chairman of NBCUniversal Content Studios. Mark Lazarus, NBCU chairman of Television and Streaming, is in the process of hammering out what sources describe as a massive shift to reorganize TV business operations around the creation of content rather than the traditional orientation of a network-based management regime.

NBCU is expected to significantly streamline much of its TV programming, marketing and distribution operations into central groups that serve multiple networks. The cable side of NBCU first began moving slowly in that direction in early 2016 when Hammer tapped Bill McGoldrick to oversee scripted content for the NBCU Cable Entertainment channels group.

The volume of pinkslips is still unclear but it is expected to be significant. NBCU chief Shell has been vocal to Wall Street that the company needs to adjust its cost base and ensure that the company’s ranks are “right-sized” for the current environment. NBCU’s TV units and theme parks division are expected to see some of the deepest cuts.

Separately, Comcast last week disclosed that it has amended its contracts with two outgoing operational executives: former NBCU chairman-CEO Steve Burke and former Comcast senior executive VP David Cohen.

Starting Jan. 1, Burke and Cohen will serve as senior advisors to NBCU parent Comcast, reporting to Comcast chairman-CEO Brian Roberts. Burke had been scheduled to formally step down as NBCU chairman in mid-August. Both contracts run through the end of 2025 and call for both executives to receive a salary of $350,000 a year, according to Comcast’s July 30 Securities and Exchange Commission filing. Burke and Cohen will not be eligible for any cash bonuses or stock grants.