2ND UPDATE: Urgent news from 30 Rock is that a big NBC shake-up is underway in the entertainment division, I’m told, after the network again finishes the season in 4th place behind CBS, ABC and Fox. I can report that NBC has definitely offered Kevin Reilly’s job to Ben Silverman (don’t be surprised if it has an inflated title). Yes, that means Reilly is out one way or another, his new contract be damned. But the two big questions now are whether the network and Silverman can come to an agreement, and whether the producer has the right stuff to lead the network showbiz division. Certainly, Silverman has great taste. But as one source tells me, 36-year-old Ben “can barely manage his way out of a paper bag” because of his extreme lifestyle, relentless ass kissing, and constant jetting around in his private plane. In any case, Zucker wants Silverman hog-tied to NBC. I also just got wind that the much-liked Katharine Pope has asked to be let out of her contract. (See below for more.) What’s so weird about the shake-up timing is that Reilly, NBC’s current entertainment czar, just signed a new contract that the network trumpeted back on March 1st. But now Jeff Zucker is looking for a fall guy (in more ways than one).
Everyone agrees that Silverman is a very savvy producer, responsible for NBC’s version of the British series The Office which has been one of the few bonafide hits for the embattled network. He also brought The Biggest Loser to NBC and adapted the Latino telenova Ugly Betty for ABC where the show is a major ratings grabber. But given how successful Silverman’s nearly 6-year-old company Reveille has been (creating, producing or packaging an eclectic mix of scripted and reality programs, spread across broadcast networks, cable networks and the Internet), it would cost NBC a fortune to bring him on board. Unless Silverman decided to keep his production company and just take the gig for the proverbial $1 a year — but that’s far-fetched. I understand that NBC doesn’t care about the costs: Zucker is just determined to make a change right now. “This could be resolved by later today or tomorrow,” a well-placed source just informed me. It also would be expensive to cash out Reilly. Back when he made his new contract, I was told Reilly wasn’t sure he wanted to stay unless they took “really good care of him.” After all, Reilly has had to put up with his nightmare of a boss. All those repeated rumors all last year that Reilly was getting canned were emanating mostly from Zucker’s office because, as one high-placed TV agent told me at the start of the season, “Jeff’s been a total dick to him. All you can ask of a network entertainment president is a hit a year. Kevin got full credit for My Name Is Earl and fell on his sword to keep The Office. This year, he has Heroes.” Obviously, that’s just not good enough anymore. Especially considering that, back on May 14th when I saw NBC’s miserable plans for the 2007/2008 fall season, I wrote: “If 4th-place NBC thinks it’s going to get to No. 1 with this schedule, it’s delusional.” So what happens if NBC and Silverman can’t come to terms? I’m told to look for the network to promote an insider like Jeff Gaspin or Bonnie Hammer. Katherine Pope would be a logical choice, too, especially as the godmother to big hit Heroes because of her long association with creator Tim Kring. But I’ve just heard she’s so fed up with Zucker’s mismanagement, with the Kevin Reilly/Angela Bromstad debacle (they hated each other from Day One), and with GE’s Old Boy Network, that she has decided to quit — and Zucker has agreed to let her out of her contract as of June 1. That would be a real loss considering she’s beloved by execs, writers and agents all over town and is believed responsible for keeping Reilly afloat this long. Better stay tuned.