NBC’s onscreen dramas have been a bit lackluster lately. (Sorry, The Philanthropist!) But off screen, the network’s theatrics are downright riveting. In the latest chapter, NBC parted ways with its high-profile entertainment co-chairman Ben Silverman on July 27, after a two-year tenure marked by the executive’s controversial behavior. After all, this is the guy who, just six months into his tenure, used a derogatory industry slur, ”d-girls,” to describe his competitors. Oh, and he threw an Emmy party with a caged white tiger.
There didn’t seem to be a single catalyst for Silverman’s exit — rumors have been floating around Hollywood for almost a year. Ultimately, though he had a reputation as a brilliant producer, his track record at NBC wasn’t winning. While he pioneered lucrative product-integration deals and championed fan favorites such as Friday Night Lights and Chuck, his flops — Knight Rider, Kath & Kim, My Own Worst Enemy — outnumbered his hits and he couldn’t lift NBC out of fourth place in the ratings. (Silverman did not respond to requests for comment.)
Now NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker is pinning his hopes on Jeff Gaspin, the well-respected exec who heads the company’s cable channels like Bravo, Syfy, and USA. ”I don’t anticipate any changes with NBC’s fall schedule,” Gaspin tells EW. (As entertainment chairman, he’ll oversee NBC’s programming while continuing his cable work.) He says his main focus is launching Jay Leno’s prime-time talk show in September.
Naturally, everyone in Hollywood had an opinion on the shuffle — but no consensus has emerged. ”NBC is so clueless these days,” says one TV agent. ”It will take much more than Ben Silverman being ousted to help them.” Counters another insider: ”This makes NBC a far more attractive place to do business.”
Silverman, who was originally hired for his impeccable credentials as a producer — he sold The Office and The Biggest Loser to NBC and Ugly Betty to ABC — is returning to his roots. He’s forming a company bankrolled by mogul Barry Diller and will be back pitching TV shows to networks. But given Silverman’s, let’s call it, outspokenness, will his former competitors want to do business with him? Ironically, he might find his most receptive audience at NBC, which purchased some of Silverman’s earliest projects. ”I suspect Ben will want to continue our relationship,” says Gaspin, ”and we’ll want to continue it too.”
— Additional reporting by Michael Ausiello