In Depth

Pope's Exit From NBCU Post Greeted With Dismay, Anger

Katherine Pope's sudden exit from her post as president of Universal Media Studios has prompted shock, bordering on anger, among many members of Hollywood's creative community.

Agents and producers described Ms. Pope as a strong creative force within NBC and predicted her depature will have a noticeable impact on the network's fortunes. There also was dismay over the sense of chaos surrounding the network these days, with observers slack-jawed at the sudden departures of Ms. Pope and NBC Entertainment development chief Teri Weinberg.

NBC alternative head Craig Plestis also is stepping down, but his leave-taking for an overall deal at UMS has been an open secret for weeks, despite his initial denials.

The executive shakeup comes amid much speculation about the long-term fate of NBC Entertainment Co-Chairman Ben Silverman. Conventional wisdom in recent weeks has had Mr. Silverman ready to sign a new deal with NBCU.

That may yet happen, but the imminent announcement that former NBC studio chief Angela Bromstad will take charge of all programming at the studio and the broadcast network might mean Mr. Silverman's role at the company could also soon change. Some industry insiders are convinced Mr. Silverman may yet leave NBC Entertainment in 2009, though there's no concrete evidence to suggest that notion is anything but wild speculation.

As for Ms. Pope, "She will be missed, personally, and I sense (NBC) will realize in her absence exactly how much she was doing behind the scenes to keep the place operational," Ari Greenburg, a partner at the Endeavor agency, told TelevisionWeek.

He said Ms. Pope, 36, was a reminder of NBC's glory days as the network of "Must-See TV."

"To the writer community, (she) represented the link to NBC's Emmy-caliber past," Mr. Greenburg said. "Her love for 'Heroes,' '30 Rock,' 'The Office,' 'House,' 'Friday Night Lights' and the upcoming 'Kings' was clear. She championed projects, she fought for her writers, and she managed the process during what has been a tumultuous time since the merger with Universal."

Mr. Greenburg's comments were echoed by Jay Sures of United Talent Agency, who was quoted by the New York Times on Saturday predicting NBC "will experience a real loss as a result of her departure.”

“She is clearly one of the top executives in the television business and will be immensely sought after in her next endeavor,” Mr. Sures added. He was not available for comment over the weekend.

Not everyone was mourning Ms. Pope's ouster, of course.

Within NBC, some executives privately expressed relief at her firing. And at least two industry insiders described Ms. Pope as "in over her head," though some of the same executives were just as quick to praise her creative instincts. Some also said Ms. Pope got too caught up in the murky cesspool of corporate politics that colors so much of what goes on at NBC Entertainment.

That said, many more executives and agents were compelled to offer vocal shows of support for Ms. Pope over the weekend. Some even came from rivals at competing media conglomerates.

"Katherine is a great talent," said ABC Entertainment President Steve McPherson. "She will land on her feet."

In the short term, Ms. Pope's absence will likely be felt hardest at some of the Universal Media Studios-produced series yet to premiere, such as the drama "Kings." Ms. Pope has been closely involved in the show's development, and creator Michael Green lamented her exit.

"Katherine was very much the show's champion from the day I handed in the pilot script," he said. "At every turn, she made sure the show had what it needed at a time when cost cuts threaten a show's ability to do anything -- certainly anything beyond the average. Creatively, 'Kings' benefited at every turn from her input, and I'm sorry I won't have her there to help me develop ideas. She is a formidable dramaturge."

Mr. Green was quick to note that he doesn't feel orphaned by Ms. Pope's exit. "I am fortunate that there is overwhelming support for the show at the network and studio," he said.

Erwin Stoff, the 3 Arts Entertainment executive who's also an executive producer on "Kings," dismissed the notion that Ms. Pope was "over her head" in any way.

"Absolutely not," he said. "She's one of the most talented executives I've ever worked with. Everybody who was an executive producer on (the Universal) lot felt like they had a champion in Katherine."

Another UMS showrunner, Katie Jacobs of "House," said that what could have been a difficult relationship with Ms. Pope turned out to be anything but.

"Katherine came on at the studio and treated 'House' like it was her own, which is very unusual if not unique," Ms. Jacobs said. "What almost always happens is administrations change and shows get orphaned—even when the asset is as valuable as 'House.' (But) Katherine invested in us 100%. She leaves with great relationships with everyone on our team."

Matt Rice, who heads UTA's scripted television division, said he was saddened by the loss of a studio chief with whom it was easy to work.

"Katherine is a rare executive, someone who possesses tremendous business acumen while simultaneously driving and nurturing the creative process and her team," he said. "Dealing with her at Universal has always been easy and efficient, not to mention extremely productive."

Mike Jelline, a top talent agent at ICM, was equally effusive in his description of Ms. Pope's skills.

"Katherine is one of the smartest executives in town and a fantastic person to collaborate with," he said, praising her taste in material and diverse array of successful shows.

"On the actor side, she is a fierce advocate for the actors on her shows and has always displayed a genuine commitment toward protecting the integrity of the characters, and their arc, on a given show," Mr. Jelline added.

Ms. Pope was told Friday that she was being let go, barely 18 months after she was named head of the studio. While many industry insiders had been predicting her exit for months—ever since her duties were reduced as part of a restructuring earlier this year—most had assumed Ms. Pope would leave of her own accord.

Ms. Pope was said to be disappointed over the March decision to remove cable production from her portfolio and hand it to Bonnie Hammer, head of NBCU cable entertainment. Within days of that announcement, word began spreading around the TV industry that Ms. Pope believed NBCU had breached her contract and that she was open to new gigs.

At one point last year, industry insiders also said Ms. Pope was approached about taking over ABC Studios. However, Ms. Pope spurned Disney's overtures and opted to stay at NBCU, two people familiar with the discussions said.

Ms. Pope may have believed she had the support and confidence of NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker. The two executives have had a hot-and-cold relationship over the years, with Mr. Zucker sometimes serving as a booster for Ms. Pope and at other times seeming to be frustrated with the executive. When Kevin Reilly was ousted from NBC, Ms. Pope also came close to leaving, but she stayed following a series of intense conversations with Mr. Zucker.

Industry insiders believe Disney is no longer interested in hiring Ms. Pope for an ABC Studios position, but they're just as confident Ms. Pope will not have trouble finding a new job elsewhere. She's been rumored for a number of top positions over the past two years.

As for her departure from NBC, insiders believe her frosty relationship with Mr. Silverman played a key role in forcing her ouster. If so, it represents a dramatic shift from just last year, when Ms. Pope was publicly declaring her enthusiasm for Mr. Silverman.

"He doesn't feel tethered to anything, which is incredibly liberating," Ms. Pope told TelevisionWeek, which selected her for its 2007 Hot List. "He really did bowl me over with his endless enthusiasm."

Ms. Pope called Mr. Silverman "fearless" and said the two shared the same creative vision.

"We were in sync from moment one," she said.

(8 a.m. Dec. 8: Added Erwin Stoff quote)