The revelation last week that former NBC communications chief Richard Licata departed in the wake of an inquiry into his behavior has shone a spotlight on his decades-long relationship with his former boss, Entertainment Chairman Robert Greenblatt.
Greenblatt fought to keep Licata at NBC following the inquiry, but was overruled by NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke, multiple individuals with knowledge of the situation told TheWrap. In an exclusive interview Thursday with TheWrap, Licata said he resigned for personal reasons.
Greenblatt has long been regarded as Licata’s protector over decades of partnership at different entertainment companies including Showtime and Fox.
Licata was dismissed after NBC hired law firm Proskauer Rose to investigate allegations of abusive treatment of staff, an uncontrolled temper and favoritism toward others, as TheWrap reported last week. In October, Licata and Greenblatt both claimed that the PR chief’s departure was attributable to his father’s death.
The intensely loyal bond between the two has led many insiders in the industry to question the unusual depth of the relationship.
“This is a guy with a storied past,” said a prominent public relations executive who knows the two, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Is Bob just burying his head in the sand? Why would you, over and over and over again, look the other way? People talk about it a lot.”
The source added, “This is a guy who has been playing all these same tricks for how many years? Bob turns his head the other way. He allows people to be harassed, be abused and run his kingdom.”
Said another respected PR veteran, “There’s a relationship there that’s just blind. All the indiscretions were overlooked.”
Greenblatt declined to comment through an NBC spokesperson. NBCU had no comment for this story.
Licata said the loyalty with Greenblatt was “mutual. I’ve worked very, very hard at all my jobs and the people that I’ve worked for all the way back to Michael Fuchs (at HBO). They were very appreciative of the kind of work that I did … I felt like I was an architect at some of these companies at times when they really needed someone who can do what I do.”
The relationship between Licata and Greenblatt began in 1994 at the Fox Broadcasting Corporation. Licata had completed a stint at HBO and Greenblatt was a budding creative executive.
“Rich was running public relations and Bob was an an up-and-coming development guy,” a then-Fox employee told TheWrap. Licata had previously run HBO’s West Coast office, a role that he vacated under murky circumstances, according to three executives who worked there previously.
Licata denied a shadowy exit, saying, “I had 14 great years of being one of the PR architects of HBO … I remember in September of ’93, I kind of felt like the job I was brought [to Los Angeles] to do at HBO was done.”
HBO declined to comment.
Licata’s run at Fox lasted from 1994 to 1998 when David Hill, a fellow Aussie and old friend of Rupert Murdoch, took charge. The former Fox executive said Licata was faced with “the same harassment allegations he faced at NBC.”
“When Licata got in trouble at Fox, he stayed in trouble and he had to leave. The David Hill regime found someone like Licata unacceptable,” said the insider, who added that at Fox,”the favoritism thing was going on.” The former colleague was among multiple insiders who said Licata was dismissed.
Licata conceded that his contract with Fox was not renewed, but denied any such behavior.
In 1998, Licata moved to PR agency Rogers & Cowan to head their television department, where he remained for six years. He was dismissed in 2004 yet again under ambiguous circumstances and replaced by marketing executive Elliot Fischoff, who died in 2010, according to two Rogers & Cowan employees, one of whom is no longer with the company.
Said the Rogers & Cowan staffer, “His assistant was let go. A quiet investigation was going on. But in the end, Greenblatt took him to Showtime, so nothing ever came of it.”
Representatives for Rogers & Cowan have not yet returned TheWrap’s request for comment.
Licata denied any situation involving an assistant, and said that Greenblatt, newly named President of Entertainment at Showtime, coaxed him to leave.
“I wanted to stay at Rogers & Cowan. I was enjoying the hunt of agency life. Bob said, ‘Have dinner with me,’ and then I went to Showtime,” Licata said. Greenblatt appointed him Vice President of Corporate Communications at Showtime in 2004.
At Showtime, Licata’s behavior apparently got him into trouble again, this time over reportedly misusing an expense account. According to The New York Post, Licata ordered colleague Nikki Ferraro to pay for a coworkers birthday celebration with a company credit card, then laid the blame on her for doing so. The Post said he instructed the Showtime coworker being celebrated to tell Human Resources that he’d only be there for a drink; the coworker later confessed to having lied about it.
Licata told TheWrap he was never present at the dinner. He also said that he was falsely accused by Ferraro of verbal abuse after she was accused of falsifying expense reports. She leveled the charge, Licata said, in order to get compensation from CBS, Showtime’s parent company.
“She hired Gloria Allred, who apparently gave her counsel that the only way to get compensation was to allege that she had been abused in some way. Because I was her direct report, I was the target,” Licata said.
At the time, Showtime sought to fire Licata, but Greenblatt threatened to quit if his deputy was dismissed, said two individuals with knowledge of the situation.
Licata denied this, saying, “My job was never on the line, ever,” in a conversation with TheWrap. “Bob never, ever threatened to quit Showtime.”
When Greenblatt was named chairman of NBC Entertainment in 2011, staffers braced themselves for Licata’s inevitable move over from Showtime.
“It was like a cloud lingering over the NBC publicity department,” the first individual said.
“It became clear that Bob had an interest in bringing Richard over into some kind of role at NBC. During that period, there was some moratorium on when that could happen — Greenblatt had a contract clause that he couldn’t poach anyone from Showtime for a period of time,” the individual recalled.
Another insider working at NBC prior to Licata’s departure said their connection sprang from a mutual commitment to the success of Greenblatt’s programming. “Bob really respected Rich; he did a lot for awards. Obviously awards and prestige have always really interested Bob,” said the insider.
Not only were NBC staffers dreading Licata’s pending hire, two individuals told TheWrap that journalists lobbied network brass to stop Greenblatt from recruiting him.
“There was a campaign to convince the powers that be that Licata wouldn’t be a prudent choice, from the press corps — important press people, from publications that hit the president’s desk,” one individual said. “ [The executives] didn’t listen.”
Said another top network executive,”Showtime warned people at NBC. The word about him — the temper, the abusive nature, favoritism — all of that was the rumored stuff. It was all over town.”
Several individuals said they had amicable working relationships with Licata, but that “inevitably, he keeps testing the boundaries until he gets into some kind of fix,” as one of those individuals characterized it.
“He’d blow up, and it would be at a perceived offense. He was so suspicious. He would accuse you of betraying him — and it was never right,“ the individual said. “The funny thing is, if he just came in and … had just been Bob’s guy, he would have been fine.”
Last October, Licata said he was resigning to “reset; to pause for a moment and find something to rebuild again” after his father died.
Greenblatt issued his own memo about Licata’s resignation.
“I did everything I could to keep him here,” Greenblatt wrote.