NBC’s Turnaround Artist, Relying on Insider Ties

In the Grill on the lot of NBC Universal studios here, Ben Silverman has arrived for lunch; and for the moment, almost all activity ceases.

As often happens in Hollywood after the coronation of a new prince, attention must be paid. At almost every booth, Mr. Silverman, the new co-chairman of NBC’s entertainment operations, is stopped by well-wishers and supplicants. Several get back a reply of “Hi, sweetheart.”

This reception is not unusual for Mr. Silverman, who has become, in less than a decade, one of the premier networkers in a town where the quantity and quality of relationships often define success.

Many of those relationships involve his 30-something contemporaries, Mr. Silverman, 36, has a pitch for them to work at NBC: “I’ll take care of your bar tab, boys. I’m nailing my demo. And my demo is coming of age creatively. These are my friends. And I’m, like, pounding on them: Get yourself in the door here.”

Mr. Silverman got himself in the door (the one at the top) of NBC Entertainment by leading his independent production company, Reveille Productions, to great success with shows like “The Office” and “The Biggest Loser” on NBC, “Ugly Betty” on ABC and “The Tudors” on Showtime.


He is now so enthusiastic about the assignment of resurrecting NBC’s fortunes that he brings a small set of chimes along with him to meetings so he can play the three-note N-B-C jingle whenever a happy moment occurs.

There have not been a lot of happy moments at NBC lately, at least not in prime time. The network finished last again this season — a third in a row. At a recent meeting with Wall Street analysts, Jeff Zucker, the president and chief executive of NBC Universal, highlighted the company’s strengths in cable and film but acknowledged that prime time needed to be fixed.

Mr. Zucker, in a telephone interview, said that he hired Mr. Silverman “because the network has had a difficult couple of years and it needed a jolt,” adding that Mr. Silverman “has international relationships unmatched anywhere.”

But then, Mr. Zucker has every reason to be Mr. Silverman’s biggest backer. As one former senior network executive assessed it, “Jeff had one move he could make.”

The executive, who requested anonymity because of potential business dealings with the two, added: “Ben was out there and Jeff couldn’t wait and let someone else grab him. But Ben has to work for him.”

NBC's Turnaround Artist, Relying on Insider Ties 1

[Via NY Times]