By J. Max Robins -- Broadcasting & Cable, 7/29/2007 8:00:00 PM
If, while overhearing some recent conversation at a network headquarters or studio, you caught mentions of “mad men,” “damages” and “saving grace,” you might well assume those deep in conversation were focused on three strong new dramas that made their debut this summer. But there's an even greater chance the talk was about all the industry infighting and machinations that have been every bit as entertaining as that trio of shows.
At the top of the list, of course, is the ongoing saga of Sumner Redstone's empire. Blistering stories over the last 10 days in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and, most damningly, in Newsweek paint a portrait of the octogenarian mogul in full-blown feud with his daughter Shari, once thought to be his designated heir, and his son Brent. It appears all those close to Redstone, whether from his biological or business family, are as disposable as the long list of associates he once kept at his side—all of whom are accomplished in their business savvy, from Frank Biondi to Mel Karmazin to Tom Freston.
Both the Journal and Newsweek intimate that Redstone may have even cooled on Les Moonves, even though the CBS chairman has done a masterful job of strengthening his part of the Redstone fiefdom, since it was spun off from Viacom a year and a half ago. The message to all around him, no matter how talented you may be, is “if you get too close to the Sun King, you get burned.” It's hardly a modus operandi that builds either loyalty or top performance. What we have here is truly a drama worthy of a title like Damages.
If the King Lear-like stuff of the Redstone family feud isn't exactly your cup of iced coffee in these warm-weather months, there's always the fight ABC entertainment chief Steve McPherson has decided to pick with his NBC counterpart, Ben Silverman. Ostensibly, McPherson was defending his good pal Kevin Reilly, who got the axe from NBC to make way for Silverman, only to surface weeks later in the top programming slot at Fox.
At last week's ABC session of the Television Critics Association summer pow-wow, McPherson shot one across Silverman's bow, because the rookie NBC entertainment boss had declared himself “too new on the job” to comment on how NBC had dispatched Reilly. “Be a man,” said McPherson of Silverman. “He didn't know what went on? Was he living in a cave?” McPherson then deemed Silverman either “clueless or stupid” in regards to how he lured deposed Grey's Anatomy star Isaiah Washington to the new NBC show Bionic Woman.
So far, Silverman has resisted the temptation to return fire, letting proverbial unnamed NBC sources jab back at McPherson for him. Among other things, the sources noted that it's strange for McPherson to take such shots; after all, Silverman was the guy who executive-produced 11-time Emmy nominee Ugly Betty, which airs on ABC.
Don't expect Silverman to keep his powder dry for long. Like McPherson, the voluble Silverman probably won't be able to resist a trigger-happy volley, and we can look forward to the kind of tart back and forth that used to go on between Moonves and NBCU Chairman Jeff Zucker, when both were entertainment chiefs. By autumn, I predict McPherson and Silverman will treat us to their own version of Mad Men, with Reilly in a supporting role.
So where's the Saving Grace in these unfolding industry sagas? Perhaps it comes from how well they keep us entertained during these dog days of summer. All we need now is a new fall drama called Guilty Pleasures.
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