FX President Kevin Reilly, last week named NBC's president of programming, starts his new job with television's biggest challenge in front of him: Find the next huge hit that will maintain NBC's dominance in prime time. If he does it, he's likely to move up the corporate ladder quickly.
Both Thursday-night linchpin Friends and Tuesday-night stalwart Frasier
are departing NBC's prime time after next season, and several of the network's hits—including The West Wing
and ER—are in decline. What's more, in the past three years, NBC hasn't developed a new mega-hit the way Fox has with American Idol, CBS has with Survivor
and ABC has with The Bachelor
and The Bachelorette.
"It is scary, very scary, but I've never seen any opportunity that is worthwhile that is not scary," Reilly said. "I think it's an opportune time to be at NBC. It's critical that we launch that next generation of hits. Historically, that's when NBC has shined its brightest. Any time the network had some irreplaceable shows, when people were saying 'NBC is in trouble,' that's when NBC came out with its next generation of hits, such as Cosby, Seinfeld, Cheers, Hill Street Blues
and LA Law."
Reilly, who will report to NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker, will head up drama and comedy development for the network and will run NBC Studios.
"I want Kevin to bring the same great ability of developing quality hits that he's had at FX to keep us on top as we have been," Zucker said. "I was aware he was going to be available this summer, and when someone of Kevin's ability and quality comes along, you jump at that."
Next in line
Sources say that, as part of the deal, Zucker has assured Reilly that he will inherit NBC Entertainment when Zucker moves up the ladder. Zucker is expected to get NBC Chairman Bob Wright's job as early as the first of next year, sources said, although neither Zucker nor Reilly would comment.
"Kevin would not be going to NBC if it was strictly just to be president of prime time programming," said one source, who added that Zucker would like to return to New York now, where his pregnant wife and two children still live, but Wright isn't ready to retire just yet. Zucker also could move into an interim position, above Reilly and below Wright, until the chairman decides to depart.
Reilly started his career at NBC in 1988 and is most recently credited with significantly raising FX's profile after developing The Shield, which won basic cable's first Best Actor Emmy for star Michael Chiklis. FX's latest original, Lucky, is critically acclaimed but has struggled in the ratings; original movie 44 Minutes: The North Hollywood Shootout
was the most-watched show in FX's history. Nip/Tuck, a show about plastic surgeons in Miami, launches this summer and already is getting some buzz.
When Reilly was at NBC the first time, he helped develop ER
and Homicide: Life on the Street
and worked on the first season of Law & Order
and Saved by the Bell
. He also was president of Brillstein Grey from 1994 to 2000 and, while there, helped develop The Sopranos, Just Shoot Me, News Radio
and The Steve Harvey Show.
HBO's The Sopranos
is a show that both Zucker and CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves admire. Reilly's use of a similar formula—putting an antihero in the lead—and making the gritty Shield
a critical success for a small cable network like FX would make him only more appealing to Zucker.
Reilly also is one of Hollywood's most prominent young development executives, and his FX achievements prove he understands how to deliver edgy programming to young, hip, affluent audiences—exactly NBC's target.
With Reilly coming on, Ted Harbert is departing as head of the studio and will leave NBC at the end of June. Karey Burke, NBC's executive vice president of prime time development, also is leaving and will stay until mid July to make the transition to a new development team.
She plans to start her own production company with Jamie Tarses, former president of ABC Entertainment. Sources say NBC is changing the guard after at least two years of stagnant development, while preparing for the challenge ahead by building a new team with Reilly at its head.
Besides Reilly, NBC shifted around several incumbent development executives as it consolidated NBC Studios with the network's prime time development.
Angela Bromstad was named executive vice president of NBC Studios, reporting to Reilly. Formerly, she was senior vice president of drama development at the network. Cheryl Dollins becomes senior vice president of comedy development at NBC Entertainment, moving over from NBC Studios, where she was vice president of prime time series. Katherine Pope becomes the network's vice president of drama development; she too was vice president of prime time series at NBC Studios. Pope will report to Chris Conti, senior vice president of drama development at NBC Entertainment. And Renate Radford will become manager of prime time series for NBC Studios, reporting to Bromstad.