A Change at the Top of NBC Leaves Five Burning Questions

The long-departed must-see-tv and miserable morale remain burning problems at the network. They are now Jeff Gaspin’s problems.

Last Updated: July 29, 2009 @ 5:42 PM

When Ben Silverman joined NBC two years ago, he inherited a last-place network torn apart by internal squabbling, weak morale and no clear sense of identity.

 

He’s leaving things pretty much the way he found them.

 

The biggest difference between 2007 and 2009: NBC has a lot more company in the panic room.

 

"It’s just a really bad time for all of us," one network chief told TheWrap. "We’re all trying to figure it out."

 

And yet, because NBC has been fourth place for so long, it’s become the poster child for what’s wrong with network TV.

 

Silverman’s exit is unlikely to change that. It does, however, provide (another) fresh start for the Peacock — and plenty of unanswered questions:

Will Jeff Gaspin be able to end the culture of backstabbing and political positioning that’s preoccupied NBC for nearly a decade?

Well before Silverman arrived, NBC was widely regarded as the most politically chaotic of the broadcast nets. Former Peacock entertainment chief Kevin Reilly, for example, was never able to get a toehold at the network because he just couldn’t figure out how to win the respect of the various factions inside NBC.

 

Part of the problem has been the lack of a strong leader at NBC Entertainment.

 

Zucker has given Marc Graboff president and chairman titles, but not a clear mandate to run the division as he sees fit.

 

With NBC Universal’s cable division humming along nicely, Gaspin certainly has the time to focus on NBC Entertainment. But he’s just as likely to empower Graboff and NBC Entertainment/Universal Media Studios chief Angela Bromstad to act more independently than they have been able to in the past.

 

The biggest challenge for Gaspin will be convincing Zucker to resist the urge to meddle in the daily management of NBC Entertainment.

Can NBC repair the damage done to its relationships with the creative community?

Writers, producers and agents have done little to hide their distaste for how NBC has treated them in recent years. When the network (rightly) pulled the plug on "My Name is Earl," creator Greg Garcia didn’t hesitate to slam the Peacock.

 

"It’s hard to be too upset about being thrown off the Titanic," he told the Los Angeles Times.

 

In a town where most people are afraid of making even slightly controversial statements on the record for fear of alienating a potential buyer/seller, Garcia’s slam spoke to just how much respect NBC has lost in recent years.

 

Zucker’s thinly-veiled distaste for Hollywood culture has been a big factor in the cold war between NBC and creatives. But Silverman, despite a rep as a consummate schmoozer, seemed to go out of his way to annoy potential partners.

 

During the the writers’ strike, he complained that the writers were the "nerdiest, ugliest, meanest kids" in the high school that is Hollywood.

 

And the decision to strip Jay Leno five nights a week at 10 p.m. was another major blow to creative types, since it eliminated five hours of potential scripted programming from the NBC lineup.

 

But often overlooked in the criticism of NBC is how far the network has gone to help nurture shows it believes in.

 

The deal with DirecTV to keep "Friday Night Lights" fostered goodwill with Imagine Television and producer Jason Katims. And while newcomers "Southland" and "Parks & Recreation" hardly set the world on fire with their ratings last spring, NBC stuck by both shows and has treated them like they were already hits.

 
Will media attention shift to network-focused conglomerates with their own issues?

Network rivals loved to bitch about Ben Silverman, but secretly, they were rooting for him to survive. The reason: As long as he was in power, much of the mainstream media’s attention was focused on his outrageous actions and NBC’s troubles.

 

Without the lightening rod of Silverman, reporters might have more time to examine attention the troubles of other networks and conglomerates.

 

Will Silverman’s departure impact NBC reality czar Paul Telegdy?

Silverman didn’t get a chance to put his stamp on the executive suites at NBC. His biggest hire, former scripted development boss Teri Weinberg, didn’t work out and was quickly shifted into a production deal.

 

The only other major Silverman hire still in power, then, is Telegdy, the former BBC Worldwide executive who oversaw "Dancing with the Stars."

 

Telegdy was a close personal friend of Silverman’s. And he was brought over to NBC in part to help build a Reveille-style production studio on the NBC lot.

 

While "The Biggest Loser" and "America’s Got Talent" have grown stronger under Telegdy, the executive’s attempts at original programming haven’t borne fruit just yet. "I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here" was a ratings weakling that resulted in lots of buzz and gossip — none of it on-brand for NBC.

 

Gaspin, meanwhile, has a strong track record in reality, going back to his days at VH1.

 

There’s zero evidence to suggest NBC has any plans to replace Telegdy or that Telegdy wants to go. Indeed, Telegdy has quickly made a lot of non-Ben friends inside the Peacock. Still, Silverman’s exit changes the dynamic for Telegdy at NBC.

 

Who will the media blogosphere obsess over now that Party Ben has left the dance floor?

Silverman and idol Brandon Tartikoff have this much in common: Both managed to rise above the obscurity in which most network bosses operate.

 

Tartikoff, of course, become a symbol of a new era of quality, populist TV.

 

Silverman will be remembered as the blogosphere’s favorite plaything.

 

"I’m still in mourning for the loss of Ben at NBC," says Gawker editor Gabriel Snyder, who says that, for the most part, TV execs lead borning lives. "He will be difficult to replace."