TV NotebookNBC, in Shake-Up, Names Outsider to a Top Position
By Bill Carter The New York Times
May 30, 2007
NBC Universal shook up its entertainment operations yesterday, hiring one of the hottest young production talents in television, Ben Silverman, as a co-chairman of both the entertainment division and its television studio.
He will share that title with Marc Graboff, giving them control over NBC's entertainment business in California. Mr. Graboff has been president of NBC Universal Television since February.
At the same time NBC announced the departure of Kevin Reilly, the president for entertainment, who had been the chief programmer for the NBC network. Only three months ago, Mr. Reilly signed a three-year contract to remain as head of the network's entertainment division.
Yesterday's announcements, which had been expected, were the culmination of an intense weekend of negotiations as Jeff Zucker, the chief executive of NBC Universal, put together an offer to hire Mr. Silverman, who has been among the most successful suppliers of programs to NBC Universal over the last three years through his company, Reveille.
NBC has held an interest in the company and it announced yesterday that it had extended its deal with Reveille for two years but not acquired the company outright. In a telephone interview, Mr. Zucker said, We never contemplated buying Ben's company, and Mr. Silverman said, I didn't want to sell it.
Instead, Mr. Silverman said he would appoint an executive to run the company, and while he would retain an interest, it would not benefit from any program decisions he made for NBC. Mr. Graboff compared the arrangement to a blind trust.
For much of the last decade, Mr. Silverman, 36, has pushed deals that helped reshape the content of television programs. As an agent for the William Morris Agency in London, he was in the middle of transactions that brought reality shows to American networks, including Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and Survivor.
As an independent producer, he was active in buying format rights to foreign shows and turning them into American series, with The Office on NBC and Ugly Betty on ABC. He developed reality series for network and cable channels, including The Biggest Loser for NBC and Nashville Star for the USA network.
Mr. Silverman has aggressively sought to bring advertisers into program development and has deals in place with Microsoft's MSN site to offer sponsored short video series on the Internet.
Mr. Zucker said the deal to secure Mr. Silverman's services had been put together hurriedly in the last 7 to 10 days, largely because Mr. Silverman and his company were in play at other media outlets. Though he did not specify who else might be interested in hiring Mr. Silverman, two executives who were involved in NBC's negotiations said two other media companies had initiated contact with Mr. Silverman.
I knew if I wanted this to happen, I had to act now, Mr. Zucker said, adding that he had for years considered Mr. Silverman an ideal candidate for a top-level entertainment job with NBC. I always thought this was something that Ben was born to do, he said.
Mr. Silverman said he grew up as a latchkey kid in New York watching NBC programs, and this made his new post a dream job for me. He said he intended to continue pursuing program ideas all over the world.
The overall plan for the Silverman-Graboff team, Mr. Zucker said, is to redefine our programming, our relationship with advertisers and our ongoing commitment to the new digital frontier.
NBC said Mr. Silverman and Mr. Graboff would share responsibility for the network's prime-time, late-night and daytime programs, and would supervise the entertainment division's digital programming. They are also responsible for managing the network's and the studio's marketing and financial strategies.
Mr. Graboff said the division of responsibilities would flow naturally, with me handling most of the business and administrative side, and Ben handling the creative side.
Mr. Silverman's first assignment may be to shore up NBC's prime-time programs because it has the least successful lineup of programs among the broadcast networks, and Mr. Zucker has emphasized that owning the most popular content is the chief goal of the company.
Mr. Zucker hired Mr. Reilly four years ago to lead a comeback in NBC's prime-time fortunes. Mr. Reilly brought several successes to NBC, including the drama Heroes this year, and was highly regarded for his taste in programs.
But the network, which has had to cut costs as a result of revenue shortfalls, continues to suffer from a shortage of the kind of hits it needs to turn around four years of negative momentum.
Mr. Reilly often expressed frustration at not being able to produce as many projects as other network entertainment chiefs did. NBC executives said they had not tied Mr. Reilly's hands over money.
Mr. Zucker said in a telephone news conference yesterday that the prospect of having Mr. Reilly continue under Mr. Silverman had not been discussed. Kevin made a decision that it was time for him to move on, he said. He declared that Mr. Reilly had added a number of quality programs to the network and that they would be his legacy to NBC.
Mr. Zucker said no changes were contemplated in the prime-time schedule that Mr. Reilly announced this month. He added that advertisers had expressed enthusiasm about the new shows.
Though Mr. Silverman is getting a different job and title, Mr. Reilly sought to step away from NBC after it became clear that Mr. Zucker was wooing Mr. Silverman. NBC is expected to announce other changes in its entertainment division, with another executive assuming other duties of Mr. Reilly's in the next few days.http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/30/bu...gewanted=print