News

Exclusive Q&A: NBC's Ben Silverman

Co-Chairman Looks to Turn Around Fourth-Place Network

One NBC staffer calls her new boss "the rock star."

Producer Ben Silverman, with his flair for exuberant salesmanship and half-buttoned shirts, took the TV industry by storm last week in a whirlwind of executive upheaval at NBC.

When the dust had settled, NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly was out; two other top executives (NBC Universal Television Studio President Angela Bromstad and drama development head Katherine Pope) were in career limbo; and the producer of "The Office" was suddenly perched atop the NBC Entertainment hierarchy—named co-chair of NBC Entertainment and NUTS along with veteran executive Marc Graboff.

In a Q&A with TelevisionWeek, Mr. Silverman revealed his courtship was so insanely rapid that he was hired and put on a media parade without having seen NBC's biggest fall pilots.

Although the tenure of Mr. Reilly was marked by reports of clashes with his bosses, Mr. Silverman declared he will have no problems getting his preferred shows on the air.

He explained why he would never order a show like "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," but would greenlight a program that embraced "peace, love and understanding."

And after the news of his hire leaked online last week, don't even get him started on bloggers. An edited transcript follows.

TelevisionWeek: What are your goals for NBC?

Ben Silverman: To continue the great legacy of NBC and its unbelievable quality of programming. To be the No. 1 network. To be the absolute biggest and best brand in broadcast television. And more important, to be the most lucrative network.

TVWeek: Specifically, how will you run things differently?

Mr. Silverman: You absolutely have to coordinate online with broadcast. There are opportunities to monetize and create assets in the digital world off of what you were doing in broadcast, and, in reverse, the digital world can become a greenhouse for you feeding your broadcast world. Also, you need to bring the studio into the fold.

TVWeek: Mr. Reilly was often portrayed as being hamstrung, to some extent, about what he could get done. Have you been given any reassurances in terms of the leeway you'll have compared to the previous administration?

Mr. Silverman: You've met me in my office at [production house] Reveille. Can you imagine me hamstrung? I am not concerned at all. I can't characterize what existed previously, but I can only speak to -- not just the assurances -- but the reality of who I am. I'm here to do this job. And I really don't have time for anything like that.

TVWeek: Mr. Graboff said you're soon going to be looking to add some shows to the midseason schedule. Are you looking at projects developed under Mr. Reilly, or for new projects, or both?

Mr. Silverman: Both. Anywhere. I have no pride of ownership. I'm all about generating opportunity and hopefully inheriting some great work from Kevin and building on that with new ideas and fresh approaches. I have a ton of ideas I can't wait to bring to market.

TVWeek: Creatively, what kind of projects should the community look to bring NBC at this point?

Mr. Silverman: I want to be aspirational. I want to be positive. I think people are so busy and overwhelmed in their lives and have so much choice, but also a cacophony exploding in their brain, and they look to television to disengage from that. I want to create environments that are warm and places they want to be—whether funny places or happy places or aspirational places. I want to lighten up the air.

I also want to be pro-social and conscious and deliver through humor, character and narrative strong emotional connection. I want to find quality that has inherent touchpoints that could make it mass. I wouldn't make shows about Hollywood. There's just certain things I wouldn't do based on my knowledge of them being too coastal.

TVWeek: What's your take on the pilots and fall schedule?

Mr. Silverman: I have not seen all the pilots yet. I thought Zach Levi, the star of "Chuck," was phenomenal and really fun, and that show had the kind of environment I want to be in. I always loved "The Bionic Woman" growing up and eagerly await seeing her powers come to fruition, but have not watched it yet. And I'm excited to see "Journeyman," which I hear is phenomenal from everyone I know who has seen it. I'm sure we're going to get some hits out of them.

TVWeek: Donald Trump told CNN that NBC wants more "Apprentice." Does NBC want more "Apprentice"?

Mr. Silverman: I can't wait to talk to Donald Trump. I'm a big fan of Mark Burnett. ... We produced "The Restaurant" together. I can't wait to further my dialog with Mark and talk to Mr. Trump about what his vision for that would look like.

TVWeek: Last Friday through Tuesday, after the news of your hire broke online and all the rumors were flying around, what was that like for you?

Mr. Silverman: Hell. It sucked. I hate the blog world. I like intimate, strong, detailed, good reporting. My poor mother sitting in the Hamptons—and all her buddies reading about my private plane that she's never been on. And I've never been on a private plane! It ends up interfering with people's lives. It ended up forcing decisions in a way that you would never want to force. It messes with the process. Privacy has been lost in the digital age, as well as any time to absorb or think about any message being communicated.

TVWeek: Jeff Zucker has said he expects Katherine Pope to be at the network for a long time, but also said it's up to you to create your own team. As a producer, I assume you've worked with Ms. Pope. What's your impression of her?

Mr. Silverman: She's a good executive. I'm looking forward to getting to know this team and figure out who inside this team has the goods. I'm eager to replicate the culture I had at Reveille—which was loyal, fun and exciting.

TVWeek: NBC and ABC have been the two most active networks in creating online content. What would you add to that?

Mr. Silverman: I have two great success stories with NBC online. We did unbelievably well-received and award-winning extensions of "The Office," including webisodes and brand extensions. With "Biggest Loser," in addition to the subscription Web service we created out of the show, which generated millions of dollars a year in revenue for the network and Reveille, we created a game that was created alongside the game in the television show ... and built a community around those contestants. Those sites, along with "Heroes" and "Deal or No Deal," have been the two most robust sites for NBC.com.

TVWeek: You mentioned bringing the studio into the fold. What's your take on whether the studio should be kept separate?

Mr. Silverman: It should be separate. We're a creative hub. The network has certain needs that creative people inside the studio should be able to fill. But there are ideas, the creative, they may have that might be appropriate for other networks. We're a buyer and a seller.

TVWeek: When we spoke a few months ago, you said your ultimate goal was entering public service. Is that still the case?

Mr. Silverman: Beyond. ... This is a company that's pioneering in the environmental field, pioneering on a global basis the solutions to major issues, and doing it in the great spirit of the capitalist democracy. Part of the appeal was that this enables me to reach more people and create more product to push more conversations about peace, love and understanding.

Comments (7)

Billy C. Turner:

Please advice how I can email Mr. Silverman.

Debbie Christian:

Ben Silmerman is presenting a new show in America (taken from a hit Columbian show) titled "Without Breasts There is No Paradise". Breast Cancer affects thousands of women in America and their families - I have no idea what this show is about, nor do I need to in order to make a request of Mr. Silverman: Please change the name of the show! The women affected by this horrid disease have already had their bodies mutilated when their breasts had to be removed. They have survived against all odds, and the title of this show is demeaning to them and to their families.

Do Not cancel Friday Night Lights:

Okay, I've never done this before and I can assure you I have better things to do than to discuss the possible cancellation of this show. Friday Night Lights is the only television show I watch on a regular basis and that is saying a lot. I do not have time for television nor do I enjoy watching the endless variety of pathetic shows that are currently available for viewing.

We pay for cable television, we pay for all the perks of having hundreds of channels to choose from. I still have to admit that there is little on television today I would want to spend my valuable time watching. That is however with exception to my favorite show, Friday Night Lights.

I am a mother of one daughter age 8, a full time homemaker and event planner, fundraiser, classroom mom, neighborhood social director and philanthropist. I do not watch television so that I have something to talk about with others. I watch television to relate and to connect with other situations that occur around me and in our world. Friday Night Lights shows a variety of issues that effect us all on a daily basis. I identify with many of the subjects and often find myself in tears at the end of the show.

More than many of the stories I read about in the newspaper, I connect with the story line of the show. It is a pretty accurate depiction of real life in a real town minus the super heroes and excessive violence other shows use.

I am no bible thumping Sunday School Teaching Girl Scout leader. I am actually a very fun, very optimistic woman and because of that I enjoy the way the stories usually lead to a positive conclusion. You have included all aspects of race, social demographics, religion and family dynamics more than any show I've ever seen. The reason people are not watching this is because they don't know about it or cannot seem to watch it when it's on. That is the only reason this show is not top rated and I know ratings equal dollars.

The marketing department at NBC should be ashamed of their poor attempt of getting this show off the ground. I've been in marketing for 15 years and one thing I get is people. People watch what is popular. People buy what is popular and people vote on what is popular. For whatever reason, your station has failed to make this show "popular". It isn't difficult to do so.

I have a list of suggestions that would help get more viewers but I'm sure you pay someone a lot of money to do that for you. I am only a customer but I do have a way of getting things done. I promise you if given me the opportunity to help promote this show, I will guarantee results. You tell me what you need me to do and I will do it. Please do not cancel this show.

I will forward this email to other media organizations and get the ball rolling but in the mean time, I will be watching Friday Night Lights as long as it airs on your channel. By the way, since I was a little girl, NBC has always been and will always be my network of choice. I hope you find the time to at least read this email. A reply would be appreciated but not expected. Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Lisa Willett
916-873-7350

gail hanson:


I'm working on an NBC boycott because of Baby Borrowers
I posted this on a message board at Family Education Network. It has generated a lot of comment. I'm also contacting Nissan, Intel, and everybody else I can think of.

I sent this e-mail to everybody on my address list, and then I thought of all of you.
I read yesterday in the paper about a TV show that is going to begin airing on June 25 on NBC. I was really upset about the show and I wanted to invite you to join me if you happen to agree with me.

I'm sending this to everyone on my address list, so if you don't remember who I am, Sorry! Just wanted you to know, as quickly as possible, that I will regretfully end my 45 year long relationship with what has been a fine network if you air a single episode of baby borrowers. That you have condoned removing children for 72 hours from their primary caregivers is abominable. Your purported admirable motive blinded you to participating in human slavery and abuse.
It is no longer hard for me to believe that no one in your programming department had the wits to consider the effect on these children as a counterbalance to cheap programming.
You need to foot the bill for parenting classes for those who rented out their children. That the adults knew the children were safe is interesting, but the children could not have known that they were themselves safe.
How could you do such a thing?

Fredra :

Why, why and why would you think for one minute that Conan O'Brien could come anywhere near replacing Jay Leno? Conan is no Johnny Carson and no Jay Leno. You are making a major mistake.

You are making the BIGGEST mistake of your career. Remember this email...mark this date...you will see that Conan is going to fail...Jay will make it, no matter where he goes, and everyone is going to say, What in heaven's name was Ben Silverman thinking? All because Conan "pushed you" to do this or he was leaving. You should have let him leave!!

This bad decision of yours will go down in history. Your mistake will be referenced for years to come as the biggest blunder ever. Jay will go to another channel, he will compete with Conan and NBC will go, down, down and down.
Fredra

Post a comment