Success at NBC hasn’t been as easy as Silverman had hoped

By A. James Memmott

May 19, 2009 at 9:15am

Two years ago, Ben Silverman took on the job of restoring NBC’s entertainment lineup to its former glory.

So far, Silverman, 38, hasn’t met that goal, according to The New York Times.

“NBC has for several years been all but desperate for a new breakout show — or two or three,” wrote Bill Carter in the Times. “Mr. Silverman’s first full cycle of programs has not yet produced anything fitting that description.”

For sure, Silverman’s performance has been pulled down by external factors. First there was the writer’s strike that disrupted the 2007-2008 season. Then, there has been the recession.

But Silverman’s so-so showing is nonetheless surprising, given his background and his proven talent for creating hits.

In a sense, Silverman was born to be television executive in charge of programming, as his mother, Mary D. Silverman, has had a similar role at Court TV, USA Network and other venues.

He’s also no stranger to the creative arts, as his father, Stanley Silverman, is a composer who has created musical scores for movies and the theater, most notably working with playwright Arthur Miller.

After graduating from Tufts University, Ben Silverman also worked for Brandon Tartikoff, who had revived NBC in the 1980s, bringing it the hit shows, “Hill Street Blues,” “Cheers” “The Cosby Show” and “L.A. Law.”

Later, Silverman joined the William Morris Agency, soon working out of London. While there, he helped bring “Survivor” and “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” to the U.S. television audience.

Silverman left William Morris in 2002 when he founded Reveille, a production company.

While at Reveille, Silverman brought “The Office,” “Ugly Betty,” “The Biggest Loser” and other hits to television here. (Shine Limited, a British company owned by Elisabeth Murdoch, daughter of Rupert Murdoch, bought Reveille last year for $125 million.)

Given this track record, it’s no surprise that NBC made Silverman the co-chairman of NBC Universal Entertainment and NBC Universal Television Group in 2007.

Silverman focuses on the programming side of the business, while lawyer Marc Graboff, the other co-chairman, handles the business side.

Despite his lack of experience as a network executive, Silverman was confident when he began work at NBC.

“The industry hasn’t seen an executive like me in a long time,” he told Esquire magazine.

He then went on to label his counterparts at ABC and FOX as “D-girls,” a term defined by Esquire as “industry slang for cute young development execs with little power.”

Adding insult to insult, Silverman also called Steve McPherson, ABC’s entertainment president, a “moron.”

Not surprisingly, Silverman’s remarks caught the attention of his boss.

“Ben made some mistakes in his first year,” Jeff Zucker, the CEO of NBC Universal told the Times. “The first year was a learning experience. He had to learn how to work inside a corporation.”

Zucker did say that Silverman is still the right person for the job.

“Ben has a skill set that is incredibly appropriate for these times,” he said. “If we weren’t supportive of Ben, he wouldn’t be here.”

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