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Deconstructing Silverman - Broadcasting & Cable

Deconstructing Silverman

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Everyone in TV who was paying attention this weekend – which was probably everyone but me, frankly – must have noticed Bill Carter’s profile of NBC U Co-Chairman Ben Silverman, published, appropriately, on the eve of upfronts.

Gawker says this of the story: “Carter takes Silverman by the collar, beats him and stuffs him in a locker.”

Really?

I beg to differ.

The most brutal part of the story is the headline: “NBC Hired a Hitmaker. It’s Still Waiting.” That’s rough. But that’s also why reporters don’t write headlines and editors do – editors aren’t as close to the story so they can be more objective, read: meaner.

But the rest of the story, as far as I can tell, is a pretty good attempt by NBC to rehabilitate Silverman, especially right after this video leaked out of Silverman, clothed only in a towel in some Aspen hotel room, singing along while the actor Fisher Stevens plays harmonica.

Wait, what?

Anyway, as embarrassing as that sounds, it’s actually kind of boring. I’m sure there are far worse videos of Silverman lying around somewhere, but I’m cool with just seeing this one and calling it a day.

Much of Carter’s article is a rehash of what we already know:

– Silverman had a party that included models in bikinis (don’t all parties in Hollywood include such models?) and white tigers in cages – yup, knew that.

– He dissed network executives at other networks as D-girls, yup, knew that, and I don’t know why it’s such a big deal. Every network executives disses the network executives at every other network all the time. It’s just how the game is played. And there are far worse things to be called than D-girl. You better grow some thicker skin and fast if you are going to get all upset about comments like that in Hollywood.

– Silverman said disparaging things about the writer’s during the writers’ strike. His mistake there was making these comments in a public forum, where he was on the record. Everyone else losing millions of dollars each week while the writers struck was saying similar things about those pesky writers, they were just smart enough to say them only in backrooms or in deeply off the record conversations.

In fact, that tends to be Silverman’s biggest problem – his public performance. He just doesn’t seem to have a clue about what’s appropriate to say in public, and what isn’t. Some corporate training could come in handy. I refer you back to this year’s NATPE when Silverman won the Brandon Tartikoff Award and his speech had nearly everyone in the room rolling their eyes.

Gawker concludes that Carter’s piece is an “utter one-handed dunk in the face of anything that’s been compiled on Silverman previous to this,” which tells me this must be the first article this Gawker guy has ever read on him.  I’m not saying that Carter’s story isn’t valuable and that there’s not some great reporting here, but I personally didn’t find any of it revelatory.

It is true that there was a lot of talk after NBC laid off hundreds of people in December that NBC U was going to reup Silverman for another year. In fact, Zucker said as much to B&C Editor Ben Grossman in an interview just after NBC U made the Leno at 10 p.m. announcement. However, we have received no formal announcement that Ben’s been re-upped. Instead, NBC and Silverman seem to have agreed that he’ll work for the company on a year-to-year basis, according to Carter, sort of like when you rent an apartment that you aren’t sure you want to stay in. That seems like a shaky arrangement, but it also seems like the perfect situation for a commitment-phobe like Silverman, who might just want to up and bail one day and go start a TV company in Bali. And I’ve got a list of about 476 TV executives you can speak with if you seriously think that something as trivial as having a contract equals job security in Hollywood.

Here’s what I think: Silverman is an incredibly creative and entrepreneurial guy, and he did an amazing job of building his own company, Reveille, into a TV powerhouse in a short time. That company imported and created many shows – The Office, Ugly Betty and The Biggest Loser – among them. Silverman ultimately sold that company to Rupert Murdoch’s daughter, Elizabeth, for $200 million, $125 million of which he kept, according to Carter. So the fact that he’s going to work at all at this point impresses me.

In the end, I think the job Silverman once thought he wanted – president of entertainment at NBC – is a bad fit for him. He’s much more skilled at other things: promoting shows, stocking them with sponsors, making sure he’s working all the angles to make money on them. That also happens to be what NBC Universal Chairman Jeff Zucker excels at. Unlike Zucker, who flies through GE’s tricky corporate culture with the greatest of ease, Silverman is a free spirit (that’s my personal euphemism for party boy). That makes GE’s button-down culture a little tough for him to take.

Carter includes hints in his article that Angela Bromstad, a veteran NBC programmer who was ousted for a while and now is back at the top of NBC Universal’s TV studio, is handling the network’s programming needs while Silverman is left to do what he’s good at.

If Bromstad can come up with more shows such as Southland – the year’s best-reviewed drama, according to Carter – NBC will be on its way toward solving its problems. And that couldn’t come too soon: a schedule of The Biggest Loser and Jay Leno does nota network make.

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