One central question that occurred to me upon hearing the news that Ben Silverman’s out and Jeff Gaspin’s in at NBC: What took so long?
It was clear that Silverman was a bad fit to head a traditional media company like NBC Universal from about his second day on the job. If his lack of interest in coming to work didn’t tip NBC executives off, perhaps his 80s-retro program choices should have done it.
Silverman understood sooner than almost anyone that the business of television was drastically changing, that the era of digital was upon us and that in order for TV to stay profitable, a multi-platform, multi-sponsor mindset was necessary. That way of thinking will continue to serve Silverman has he moves into his next gig – creating a multi-platform production company with the backing of Barry Diller’s IAC.
But Silverman simply wasn’t cut out for GE’s shark-tank corporate culture. And he got caught in the simple net of “be careful what you wish for.” He’s always said that Brandon Tartikoff was his hero, so when he got the chance to live his dream, he took it. Little did he know that he already had found his dream job in running Reveille, the production company he started after serving as a William Morris agent. It takes a certain personality to thrive in GE’s buttoned-down corporate culture, and Silverman – for better or worse – is not that guy.
Jeff Gaspin, however, is. Gaspin has been the obvious heir apparent since he was Zucker’s right-hand man as head of NBC Entertainment’s reality programming in 2001. He was promoted to head of NBC’s cable networks in 2004, and given oversight of all NBC U’s network-related digital efforts in 2005. Considering that NBC U’s cable networks are the brightest spot in NBC Universal’s portfolio – by about 500 megawatts – Gaspin has clearly earned his stripes.
Meanwhile, Marc Graboff remains quietly in position, doing what he’s always done – making smart business deals for the company without a lot of flash. While the broadcast network hasn’t necessarily prospered under the Silverman/Graboff team, Graboff’s job has always been less about finding hits and more about making deals. Silverman, on the other hand, was brought in as a rainmaker, but he turned out to be mostly a flop-maker. I’m not holding that against Silverman – it’s far more common for network TV presidents to fail than to succeed – however, most of them manage to better act the part.
NBC Universal is clearly rearranging its troops as it heads into the 2009-2010 TV season, which promises to be one of the most challenging TV has yet seen. The networks’ upfront take will definitely be down, and with very little auto or financial money in the market, an upturn doesn’t look likely for months.
Silverman is taking a hit in the press today, but he’s making the right move for himself and for NBC. Meanwhile, Gaspin — finally moving into a role that probably should have been his years ago — has his work cut out for him.