The search for a replacement of ousted Amazon Studios head Roy Price is over, with NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke named as new head of Amazon Studios. The broadcast network is expected to announce a replacement for her shortly, with Salke expected to remain at NBC for the transition before segueing to the new job.
“What stood out about Jen was the deep relationships she has nurtured with creators and talent over her career, spanning NBCU, Twentieth Century Fox, and Aaron Spelling Productions,” said Jeff Blackburn, SVP Business Development & Entertainment at Amazon. “She’s built an impeccable reputation as a big leader who emphasizes creativity, collaboration, and teamwork.”
Amazon Studios COO Albert Cheng, who had served as interim studio head since Price’s ouster, will report to Salke.
A replacement for Salke at NBC will likely be named by next week. Among internal options, there has been speculation about the possibility of more responsibilities for heads of drama and comedy Lisa Katz and Tracey Pakosta, who could get elevated, or a move back to the network for Universal TV president Pearlena Igbokwe.
Salke was a finalist for the Amazon Studios job. She, along with A+E Networks president and CEO Nancy Dubuc, had emerged as leading candidates out of a pool of accomplished female TV and film executives who reportedly had been considered. They both met with top Amazon executives, including chairman Jeff Bezos, earlier this month. Dubuc pulled herself out of consideration yesterday.
“I’m incredibly excited about the future at Amazon Studios,” Salke said. “In the studio’s relatively short existence they have innovated, disrupted, and created characters that are already an indelible part of pop-culture. I am both honored and emboldened by the opportunity to lead this extraordinary business. Of course, this is also bittersweet for me. NBC has been an amazing home – creatively, professionally and personally – and I leave there knowing that the work we did had groundbreaking impact. It’s an exciting time to be a content creator, and I look forward to being on the front lines of an innovative business with storytelling at its heart.”
From the get-go, Amazon focused primarily on female candidates following the ouster of Price over a sexual harassment allegation. Fox TV Group chairman Dana Walden, considered an early frontrunner, ruled herself out of consideration in early January as she is reportedly eyeing a top TV job at the combined Disney-ABC along with various other opportunities, including a possible new venture in tandem with uber producer Ryan Murphy.
While film executives, including Amy Pascal, were reportedly also considered, sources indicated the search had a stronger emphasis on executives with TV experience as Amazon is looking to build its original content unit into a TV series powerhouse of the size of Netflix via a new programming strategy focused on big, broad genre hits of the size of Game Of Thrones. Amazon Studios film chief Jason Ropell will report to Salke.
Among the candidates, Salke had one of the most comprehensive scripted track records. As president of NBC Entertainment, she oversaw comedy development, drama development, current programming, casting, business affairs and diversity programming initiatives for NBC, as well as production via the Universal Television studio operations. Some of the hits she has shepherded at the network include top broadcast drama This Is Us and the Chicago franchise. Prior to joining NBC, Salke served as EVP Creative Affairs at 20th Century Fox TV, where she oversaw the development of such popular series as Glee and Modern Family. As SVP of Drama Development at the studio, she shepherded the development of hits Bones and Prison Break, among others. Salke began her career at Aaron Spelling Productions in the early 1990s where she worked on the original Beverly Hills, 90210 and Melrose Place.
“Jennifer Salke is a world class entertainment executive and deserves enormous credit for helping put NBC back on top,” said NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt, who has been close with Salke since the duo first worked together more than two decades ago while she was at Spelling Prods. and he was at Fox. “This opportunity is the logical next step in her phenomenal career and we wish her only the best. While we will all miss her enormously, we will hopefully find many new ways to be in business with her at Amazon.”
Amazon’s hiring process had been lengthy and thorough as, following the swift ouster of Price and his top lieutenants Joe Lewis and Conrad Riggs in November, the company was determined to get it right and find someone who would fit into the Amazon culture and provide new leadership at the same time. The unique, drawn-out and exhaustive process had been considered a potential deterrent to Hollywood candidates. Some observers also have noted the relatively modest compensation and Amazon’s lack of executive perks that Hollywood brass are accustomed to (among other things, Amazon executives are asked to fly coach).
Dominic Patten contributed to this report.