NBC Co-Chairman Leaves to Start New Company

Another programming chief has bit the dust at NBC.

Just weeks before the beleaguered network makes a last-ditch effort to fix its prime-time ratings woes with a prime-time Jay Leno-hosted talk show, the parent company announced that Ben Silverman is leaving as co-chairman of NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios.

Jeff Gaspin, a longtime NBC employee, has been named chairman of NBC Universal Television Entertainment, effective immediately.

Gaspin's now in charge of NBC's entertainment division, which decides what shows go on the network's prime-time lineup. He'll also oversee Universal Media Studios - the studio's TV-production division, which produces programming for all networks (including Fox's "House"), but is mostly known for producing much of NBC's lineup, including "Heroes," "The Biggest Loser," all the "Law & Order" dramas, "30 Rock," "Parks and Recreation," and Leno's new show, among others.

Gaspin is also going to hang on to all his pre-promotion duties. He will oversee the company's entertainment cable networks - USA, SyFy, Bravo, Oxygen, Sleuth and Chiller, plus the company's interests in A&E and History networks. Gaspin is also in charge of the company's various TV distribution systems, including linear, digital, wireless, off-network syndication and first-run syndication. And he's still in charge of the Spanish-language broadcast network Telemundo and the NBC Universal-owned Telemundo stations.

Marc Graboff, who had been the other half of the Benjie co-chairmanship, is now just plain chairman, NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios, and reports to Gaspin.

Silverman will stay in his NBC office for a few weeks to help launch NBC's fall lineup, which includes the big Leno gamble. The network bailed out of the scripted-drama business at 10 in favor of a Leno talk show script because it was a way to drastically bring down the cost of the network's primetime, would allow Silverman to focus on developing programming for fewer hours of prime time, and prevented Leno from jumping to another network after being pushed off "Tonight Show" to make way for Conan O'Brien.

"This new structure helps us align all of our television entertainment assets under one veteran executive at a time when continued innovation is essential," Zucker said in this, his latest exec shuffle.

Zucker hired Silverman in May 2007 to replace Kevin Reilly, who he'd appointed head of NBC Entertainment in May of 2004 to replace himself after he got promoted. After getting the sack, Reilly landed at Fox and is now the entertainment chief at the No. 1 ranked network among NBC's target audience.

Silverman, meanwhile, is leaving NBC to form a new company in partnership with Barry Dillver's media outfit IAC. That new company will "unite producers, creators, advertisers and distributors under one roof," ICA announced. Silverman's NBC contract had recently expired.

Silverman didn't have much luck creating long-running ratings hits during his brief stop at NBC, which finished the most recent TV season mired in fourth place among those 18-49 year olds it targets to sell to Madison Avenue. It also was in fourth place among all viewers.

Most of Silverman's success came in forging relationships with advertisers. In its bio of Silverman, NBC lists first, among his successes at the network, "He moved the Upfront [primetime-schedule unveiling] earlier and brought brands into the entire fall schedule."

"Also, despite a [writers] strike, he delivered the highly rated 'American Gladiators' series and 'Knight Rider' movie while also reinventing the network's 'The Biggest Loser,' 'Deal or No Deal' and 'Celebrity Apprentice' franchises," the network said in its rundown of Silverman's accomplishments at the network.

"American Gladiators" flamed out quickly and Silverman tried, unsuccessfully, to turn the "Knight Rider" movie into a series.

The network also noted Silverman is executive producer of NBC's "The Office" and an executive producer and co-creator of "The Biggest Loser." "Biggest Loser" was NBC's most successful entertainment show this past television season, ranking No. 36. "The Office" was NBC's biggest success of the past TV season among viewers between the age of 18 and 49. NBC execs say they sell only that age bracket to advertisers -- not the overall audience its shows attract.

But Silverman brought both "Biggest Loser" and "The Office" to the network when he was running the production company Reveille, before Zucker hired him to run programming at NBC. As head of Reveille, Silverman also gets credit for ABC's "Ugly Betty" which, in its Silverman bio, NBC called a "comedy hit."

IAC said this morning that the production company it is forming, to be led by Silverman, will bring advertisers into the development process on new-media content, moving past the model of the 30-second ad.

"Attention is the toughest commodity to harness," Silverman told the Associated Press.
"To get people's attention you have to disrupt, you have to make things part of the culture, not just part of the marketing."

Gaspin has been with NBC since the mid '80s, with one timeout during which he worked at VH1. He started his NBC career in the stations division in '84, and moved to NBC News a few years later. He was involved in financial planning for NBC News and also oversaw production fnance for "Late Night with David Letterman" and "Saturday Night Live." Gaspin's long NBC career also includes a stint overseeing the network's push into reality TV, and running Bravo network.

By Kendra Nichols  |  July 27, 2009; 1:54 PM ET
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Is NBC the next General Motors?

Posted by: newbeeboy | July 27, 2009 3:37 PM

This is really interesting. Looks like advertising is finding a new way to survive. Looks like IAC will have competition right out of the gate. Intertainment Broadcasting Corporation (IBC) is also using the concept of advertising driven content. Check out this latest story: http://philadelphia.bizjournals.com/philadelphia/blogs/technology/2009/07/intertainment_wants_to_be_qvc_of_gift_cards.html

Posted by: jkgleason1 | July 28, 2009 4:36 PM

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