For NBC Universal, January 2006 has been a month of great change, and not just because of NBC’s new Thursday night comedy lineup.
With continuing ratings challenges, depressed ad sales and strengthening competition from rival broadcasters, NBC has been under pressure to show the marketplace and its corporate bosses at General Electric it is not sitting idly by.
After last week no one can accuse NBC Universal of being complacent.
The company named Marc Graboff West Coast chief of the NBC Universal Television Group, a title that reflects his oversight of the company’s highest-level executives. Mr. Graboff fills a position that has been vacant since Scott Sassa left the job in 2002.
Mr. Graboff’s promotion coincided with several staffing shuffles among the development ranks at both NBC Universal Television Studio and the NBC broadcast network.
After more than a week of speculation, the transitions began last Tuesday, when NBC Universal Television Studio’s Katherine Pope was brought back to the network to run prime-time development as executive VP, replacing former CBS executive Ghen Maynard, who was in NBC’s top series development position for less than a year. Ms. Pope, who has worked off and on at the network and the studio for six years, last served at NBC as the VP of drama development from June 2003 to June 2004.
In addition, Ms. Pope’s NUTS colleague Jeff Ingold, a former network staffer like Ms. Pope, was named the network’s senior VP of comedy development, replacing Cheryl Dolins, who has left the network. Days later Michael Thorn, NBC’s senior VP of drama development, also left the network. A replacement for Mr. Thorn has not yet been named.
The shakeups mark a major change to NBC’s executive team at a critical time in the series development process: Scripts bought last summer and fall are now being sifted through as the network decides which projects will get a pilot pickup.
“The timing of these moves will allow this new team to be integrally involved in pilot decisions at this important stage in our development season,” NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly said last week in a statement.
Mr. Maynard started his career at CBS as a drama development executive but became the top reality executive there after helping to discover the network’s signature “Survivor” franchise. While he was well respected by Mr. Reilly and his new colleagues at NBC, he could not adapt quickly enough to the network’s pressing development needs, one agent said.
“He didn’t have the chance to get his sea legs,” the agent said. “Unfortunately, they don’t have the luxury of time.”
Ms. Pope was seen as an executive who could come in and immediately oversee the pilot development process.
As part of the change the network is dropping the new team system set up by Mr. Maynard in which development executives were either assigned specifically to hear NBC Universal-produced series pitches or pitches coming from outside studios.
But the larger move was announced last Thursday, when Mr. Graboff was named president of NBC Universal Television for the West Coast. The move follows the changes that came in December, when Jeff Zucker was promoted from president to CEO of NBC Universal Television Group.
During the year before Mr. Zucker’s promotion, NBC fended off rumors that Mr. Zucker planned to add a layer of administration between himself and Mr. Reilly, with some critics suggesting such a move would insulate Mr. Zucker from any problems at the network. But with his move to CEO, the need to reinstate a West Coast president became a necessity for Mr. Zucker, which he acknowledged in a release announcing Mr. Graboff’s promotion.
“In light of my expanded responsibilities, I am formalizing what Marc has been doing for the last 18 months with regard to the day-to-day oversight of the West Coast TV operations,” Mr. Zucker said in a release.
Mr. Graboff will oversee the day-to-day operations and administration of NBC Entertainment and NBC Universal TV Studio. Kevin Reilly, president of NBC Entertainment, and Angela Bromstad, president of NBC Universal TV Studios, will continue to report directly to Mr. Zucker on creative and programming matters but will report to Mr. Graboff on business, operational and administrative issues. He will keep his previous responsibilities overseeing all business affairs and physical production for the NBC Universal cable properties and NBC Universal Television Distribution.
The promotion formalized the company’s on-the-ground realities, Mr. Graboff said in an interview with TelevisionWeek, since he has been running business operations since Mr. Zucker transitioned back to New York in 2004 after Mr. Reilly took over as the network’s entertainment president.
“All the title is doing is making official what I’ve already been doing,” Mr. Graboff said. “My job is to make it much easier for Kevin and Angela to do their jobs.”
However, Mr. Graboff did not suggest or approve the development staffing changes at the network, he said.
“That was all Kevin, obviously with Jeff’s support,” he said.
One of Mr. Graboff’s main responsibilities will be figuring out business models for distributing original content on rapidly growing new platforms, Mr. Graboff said, models that may have to be created from scratch.
“It’s a little bit of the wild West out there,” he said.
Mr. Graboff compared his new role to Nancy Tellem’s position as president of the CBS Paramount Network Television Entertainment Group at CBS Corp., where the heads of both CBS and Paramount Network Television report to Ms. Tellem, but CBS CEO Leslie Moonves is still involved on creative issues.
Mr. Graboff’s rise comes at a time when the overall value Hollywood places on the expertise of business affairs executives is escalating as well, the agent pointed out. For example, Ms. Tellem at CBS and Warner Bros. Television Group President Bruce Rosenblum both got their new jobs in September.
“The interesting thing is to see the rise of all the business affairs executives at all the studios,” the agent said. “You see in a conglomerated, consolidated world how important business is internally and externally.”
Before: President of NBC Universal TV Group
Now: CEO of NBC Universal TV Group (as of Dec. 15)
Before: Executive VP of NBC Universal TV Group
Now: NBC Universal West Coast president
(as of Jan. 12)
Before: President of NBC Entertainment
Now: Title is unchanged, but Mr. Reilly reports to Mr. Graboff on business, operational and administrative issues (as of Jan. 12)
Before: President of NBC Universal TV Studios
Now: Like Mr. Reilly, Ms. Bromstad reports to Mr. Graboff on the same select issues (as of Jan. 12)
Before: Senior VP of drama series for NBC Universal TV Studio
Now: Executive VP for NBC Entertainment, replacing the outgoing Ghen Maynard (as of Jan. 10)