After a Rocky Road, Silverman Finally Leaves NBC Universal

As Jeff Gaspin becomes the main man, Silverman says, “This fall will be my judgment.”

Last Updated: July 28, 2009 @ 1:15 PM

The Ben SIlverman experiment is finally over at NBC Universal.

 

Silverman is leaving the conglomerate and is partnering with old pal Barry Diller to form a new company, headed by Silverman, "to capitalize on the ever-evolving world of multimedia production and distribution," according to a release from Diller’s IAC.

 

Jeff Gaspin (below) has been named Chairman, NBC Universal Television Entertainment, effective immediately. Silverman had been Co-Chairman, NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios. Marc Graboff will now inherit that role as sole Chairman.

 

Silverman’s friend, multimedia maven Ryan Seacrest, broke the news of Silverman’s new gig at around 5:54 a.m. Monday via Twitter.

 

Silverman’s departure ends two years of drama and overall bad vibes at the fourth-place network. With Gaspin getting promoted — and Silverman gone — the thinking is that there will be a more professional and stable atmosphere which would help any kind of turnaround.

 

Asked what his legacy will be, Silverman told TheWrap, "This fall will be my judgment."

 

Indeed, the upcoming season sees a major shift in the TV landscape, as "The Jay Leno Show" is stripped across five days during primetime.

 

During Silverman’s tenure, there have been no new breakout shows and an unusually high number of high profile bombs like "My Own Worst Enemy," and "Knight Rider." Silverman fared better with reality shows "The Biggest Loser" and "America’s Got Talent" expanding their success under his reign.

 

Diller told TheWrap, "I had always thought Ben Silverman was wrong for the NBC job — he’s such a natural entrepreuner, such a natural productive selling force that I’m sure this is the right confirguration for him."

 

IAC said it will provide seed money for the new company but that the new venture will ultimately not be part of IAC’s financial results. It plans to bring on new investors, including, perhaps, NBC Universal.

 

Diller and Silverman (at right) have had a long relationship ever since Silverman’s powerful production company, Reveille, was originally set up at Diller’s USA Entertainment.

 

With Gaspin, NBC U President & CEO Jeff Zucker is putting one of his most trusted aides in a critical position. Zucker has said that Gaspin’s low-key operating style — relative to the omnipresent Silverman — has been a major plus. (Gaspin talks to TheWrap; see accompanying story.)

 

Gaspin already has responsibility for the company’s cable properties, including Syfy, USA, Bravo and Oxygen. He also oversees the company’s distribution efforts.

 

Silverman will, according to NBC U, remain on board for several weeks in order to assist the launch of the network’s fall schedule. Zucker told TheWrap that Diller had approached Silverman several weeks ago.

 

The NBC U announcements were made by Zucker, to whom Gaspin will report.

 

"There’s no question that the broadcast model is under strain," Zucker told TheWrap. "Ratings create a perception, but that’s not the only way to judge things. Jeff brings a whole different way of thinking, from his years in cable and spanish televsion."

 

In a statement announcing the changes, Zucker said the new structure "helps us align all of our television entertainment assets under one veteran executive at a time when continued innovation is essential."

 

The moves also promise some stability for NBC during what is likely to be a tough fall for many of the broadcast networks. Gaspin, Graboff and NBC Entertainment and studio chief Angela Bromstad all know each other well and will not have to spend any time getting up to speed with the new structure.

 

The biggest open question is whether NBC’s broadcast and cable units will begin working even more closely with Gaspin’s oversight. There will almost certainly be speculation about NBC U cable programming toppers Bonnie Hammer and Lauren Zalaznick having more of a say in NBC Entertainment matters.

 

It seems doubtful Gaspin will try to force any such artificial cooperation, however, given how well NBC U’s cable wing has been doing on its own, and the need to give Bromstad some space to put her stamp on the network.

 

Over at Disney, Anne Sweeney oversees both broadcast and cable, and yet the two divisions operate independently from one another.
 

In its announcement of Gaspin’s new role, NBC U said its move "will better allow the company to leverage its content across all of (its) properties."

 

News of Silverman’s departure won’t come as a shock to many in the Hollywood TV community. Despite strong assurances from NBC insiders in recent months that Silverman had quietly extended his contract at the network, agents and executives at other networks had said Silverman had become increasingly disengaged from the day-to-day business of developing new shows and that many key decisions were being made by Angela Bromstad.

 

Silverman will now be back in self-starter mode, freed from the constraints of a giant corporation. He hinted that his new venture with Diller will focus on the sorts of brand integrations he became famous for at NBC and, previously, at Reveille.

 

Silverman’s exit comes less than 48 hours after NBC aired the series finale of "Kings," an ambitious, lavish show championed strongly by Silverman despite reservations from others within the company over its complex storylines. Silverman greenlit a monster marketing campaign for the show and planned to air it Thursdays at 10 after "ER" left the air.

 

But Zucker didn’t get the appeal of "Kings," according to people familiar with internal NBC conversations. Neither did Zucker’s new hand-picked entertainment chief, Bromstad.

 

Bromstad’s first move upon returning to NBC Entertainment: Pulling "Kings" from its planned Thursday slot and replacing it with the John Wells-produced "Southland." "Kings" was banished to Sunday, and later Saturday nights, where it died a quiet death.