Granted, the TV networks have always been the killing fields for creativity, but camaraderie usually governed the treatment of its executives. So the brazen brutality with which NBC Universal chief executive Jeff Zucker gave his entertainment president the bum’s rush was the talk of the town all Memorial Weekend, especially because he tried to keep it secret and couldn’t. Oops. I spoiled Zucker’s best-laid plans by first reporting here last Friday that he was negotiating with 36-year-old prolific producer Ben Silverman in private to take over NBC’s showbiz duties all the while keeping Kevin Reilly in the dark about his imminent ouster. Hollywood fumed that the well-liked Reilly, who just signed a new three-year contract in March, didn’t even know he was losing his job until he read it in my blog. Then I updated here on Sunday to explain that Silverman would get the bigger job of NBC Universal West Coast chairman of something or other (similar to that enjoyed by the network’s last Hail Mary hire, Don Ohlmeyer, back in the ’90s) and share the title with Zucker’s Burbank capo Marc Graboff who would be promoted to run the business side of things. Finally, today, NBC announced that Silverman and Graboff were named co-chairmen of NBC Entertainment and NBC Universal Television Studio.
On the surface, this seemed to neatly solve the problem of Hollywood naysayers wondering whether Silverman has the right stuff to be a network suit knowing what they do about Ben’s high-flyin’ lifestyle. (His moveable frat is his fancy private jet. And his ex-William Morris Agency colleagues still talk about the time he partied so hearty that his office looked ransacked, with empty beer bottles strewn all over and desk stuff dumped on floor. Silverman later told management that someone broke into his office.) But a deeper look shows that Silverman is way more fiscally responsible than Graboff is. As insiders tell me, one of the myriad problems at NBC is that their answer to every problem is to throw gobs of money at it and build convoluted management structures — and Graboff is a chief architect of that failing system. “The irony here is that Ben, as crazy as he is, is extremely cheap when it comes to business. He refuses to pay anything for rights or writers. He is infinitely more responsible with money and deals than Graboff, which is an open secret inside NBC,” a source explained. “Graboff no doubt is a good guy and very personable, and for that people like working with him. But he also makes the worst deals in town, throwing money away like crazy and focusing only on the short-term impact. For this, agents and lawyers like him because they know he can be easily worked.”
The TV networks have been known to use psychics to set their primetime schedules. But I’m convinced that, to save his embattled fourth-place NBC mired with a 2007/2008 primetime schedule that sucks, Zucker is trying to channel the ghost of the late Brandon Tartikoff, the network’s best and boldest programmer, by hiring his protégé. (Silverman got his big break working for the TV legend when Tartikoff ran New World Entertainment in the early 1990s.) Just as NBC turned to thirtysomething Brandon in 1981 to bail it out of its bottom-feeding when there was turmoil in the executive ranks, a writer’s strike looming and no shows — absolutely no shows — in the Top 20, so is NBC turning to thirtysomething Ben now to bail it out of its bottom-feeding when there is turmoil in the executive ranks (involving Reilly’s No. 2 Katherine Pope, and Angela Bromstad, president of NBC Uni TV Studio: Katherine Pope Asking Exit?), a writer’s strike looming and few shows in the Top 20. As a long-time friend of Tartikoff’s, I remember him boasting about Ben. “He’s good for the Jews.” Funny, that’s also how Silverman was describing his soon-to-be NBC ascent: “It’s good for the Jews.” (more…)