EXCLUSIVE: NBC’s sibling Universal Media Studios has assembled a new top executive team under EVP Bela Bajaria, who took the reins of the studio last month. Additionally, UMS is changing its name to Universal Television, reverting to the moniker held by Universal’s TV production company, known for such series as the Law & Order franchise, prior to its 2004 merger with NBC Studios.
Bajaria’s new team includes Russell Rothberg, formerly SVP Drama Programming, NBC and UMS, who has been named head of the studio’s drama department as SVP Universal Television. Joining him in the drama area will be Erin Underhill, formerly SVP Current Programming, NBC and UMS, who now becomes SVP Universal Television, reporting to Rothberg. Additionally, former WB head of comedy Tracey Pakosta comes to Universal Television to lead the comedy department as SVP Comedy. And Showtime veteran Beth Klein, who left the pay cable network in April after 23 years, has been named SVP Casting, Universal Television. An additional comedy executive will be announced shortly.
“Today’s announcement further demonstrates our commitment to our studio business,” said NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt, who had made re-establishing NBC’s sister studio as a full-service entity, including expanding its production to other broadcast networks and cable, a priority. “The name change to Universal Television harkens back to a company that was once a juggernaut of the business and will serve to reinforce to the creative community our stated goal of producing quality television.” Added Bajaria, “This incredible group brings a wide range of experience, great creative relationships and a strong belief in the studio business.”
Under the most recent NBC executive structure, UMS did not have its own department heads, with Laura Lancaster (drama), Tal Rabinowitz (comedy) and Grace Wu (casting) overseeing both network and studio. Now the three will focus on network matters, with Rothberg, Pakosta and Klein as their studio counterparts. Along with Universal Television, its cable sibling Universal Cable Prods, once part of UMS, also is looking to become a full-service studio and branch out into development for broadcast and non-NBCUniversal cable nets. Universal Television has unveiled a new logo, which the company says “pays homage to its legacy with a global-inspired trademark that is reminiscent of its earlier years but has been slightly updated.”
In his previous position, Rothberg developed NBC’s new dramas Awake and Prime Suspect. He joined NBC and Universal Media Studios in June 2009 and previously served as VP Current Programming at Fox. Underhill recently oversaw such new series as the dramas The Playboy Club, Awake, Parenthood, Chase and the anthology series Love Bites. She earlier developed Heroes, Chuck and Friday Night Lights for NBC. Pakosta most recently was the partner at Green Mountain West, Craig Ferguson’s production company for CBS TV Studios. She previously served as EVP Comedy Development at WB Network, where she co-ran the comedy department and developed such series as Reba and What I Like About You. During her long tenure at Showtime, Klein oversaw casting for the network’s scripted series, working closely with Greenblatt for several years. She is the third high-level Showtime executive to follow Greenblatt to NBC, along with head of marketing Len Fogge and head of communications Richard Licata.