Ben Silverman, We Hardly Knew Ye

PASADENA, Calif.–NBC executives sat on the stage of the TCA press conference room this morning and used the “BS” words–as in Ben Silverman.
NBC Universal quietly announced last week that Silverman’s two year tenure as the guy who calls the programming shots (that NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker signs off on) was going back to The Office, or some office, just not an office in 30 Rock.
NBC primetime entertainment president Angela Bromstad told critics with a straight face today that “that’s always been Ben’s plan,” which prompted chuckles and guffaws in the room. As one fellow critic later opined, “just like my plan all along was the meltdown of the entire newspaper business.”
Rival programming executive Nina Tassler wasted no time dissing Silverman earlier this week at CBS’s press tour executive session. “I’m really just a D-girl so I wouldn’t comment,” she said of Silverman’s departure, a sly reference to one of the dumbest things BS boy ever said. In an Esquire interview, he dismissed his female programming rivals as “D-girls,” women who basically spent their time reading development scripts.
Silverman arrived with such promise. When I was at the Banff International TV fest in June of 2007, he kept a promise and appeared via satellite just weeks after being named NBC’s top programmer. He was very impressive that day, scoring big points in that room by championing more of a world view in terms of the constant hunt for NBC content.
Two years later, NBC is still in fourth place, their biggest show is The Biggest Loser and a third of their schedule this fall all hinges on one of the biggest gambles in the history of TV programming–the five-night-a-week Jay Leno gambit.
Then there were the rumors. Silverman was MIA at important network confabs, jetting off to St. Trope or the Riviera with his A-List pals. He never gave the impression that he was breaking a sweat. He was charming and effective in person (always bringing up his dad’s connection to the Stratford Festival whenever he crossed paths with a Canadian down here), but nothing broke big under his watch and a lot of other things simply broke down.
Once past the Silverman stink, Bromstad and her NBC reality show executive Paul Teledgy tried to spin Conan O’Brien’s Tonight Show numbers, still tops overall 18-49 (Letterman had only beat him once on that score, we were told, and even that was really a tie) but down in total households. “The true test is going to come this fall,” said Bromstad, who is correct.
On Leno, they both said they’re looking for the five nights to get a boost, that it will provide a clear programming alternative, that 44 weeks of originals will be an advantage.
Chuck, they said, will be held till March and maybe until next summer, with just 13 episodes on order, although they like what they see in the first three or four scripts.
Addressing the failure of The Listener, one of the shot-in-Toronto co-productions that have stumbled on U.S. schedules, Bromstad suggested it may not have been “on brand.” NBC seemed to do better with Merlin and The Philanthropist, she said, so future summer shows may have to be more “on brand”; Friday Night Lights, for example, will be held back until next summer.
The execs said, sure, they’d welcome Paula Abdul to their network now that she’s off the American Idol jury. “Paula’s an exceptional piece of talent,” said Teledgy, who apparently went to the same sound bite coach as Abdul.
The executive press conference was jam packed, no thanks to a wake up call some of us got to alert us to an earlier session. The phone rang and there was NBC weatherman Al Roker on the blower, encouraging one and all to join him for breakfast (where NBC was promoting Roker’s new Weather Channel show). “This seemed like a really great idea in the meeting,” joked Roker. Ka-lunk.

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