Silverman Spectacle Sets a Poor Example

Jun 4, 2007  •  Post A Comment

The outcome probably will benefit NBC. Getting there wasn’t pretty.
Last week, after a spate of blog and news reports predicting the action, NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker pushed out his entertainment chief, Kevin Reilly. Mr. Zucker brought in the ultra-
successful television producer and entrepreneur Ben Silverman to improve the fortunes of the Peacock network.
Mr. Reilly signed a three-year contract in March, but that vote of confidence didn’t survive the high-wattage allure of Mr. Silverman, whose successes running the Reveille production house had drawn Mr. Zucker’s attentive gaze for some time. Mr. Reilly, who hadn’t succeeded in reversing a ratings slump at NBC, was sent packing, presumably with a non-trivial portion of his contract’s worth.
Mr. Zucker’s comments on the day the staff change was announced made it sound as if Mr. Reilly’s future had been foretold. Mr. Zucker said he’d had his eye on Mr. Silverman for a long time and that he made his move as soon as he found out the uber-producer might be amenable to a change of scenery.
It all might have been handled according to the accepted, if regrettable, protocols of Hollywood putsches had it not been for an anonymous e-mail tip to journalists about Mr. Zucker’s plans. Instead, the news leaked, and what could have been viewed as a bold personnel move by Mr. Zucker was marred by the painfully awkward spectacle of a well-liked executive becoming the last person to know his own fate.
Marc Graboff, NBC’s West Coast chief, informed Mr. Reilly of his impending involuntary leisure on Friday, May 25, presumably after journalists including Nikki Finke publicized Mr. Zucker’s plans for Mr. Reilly. Mr. Zucker has said he had a conversation with Mr. Reilly over the following weekend.
So Mr. Reilly didn’t get it from the horse’s mouth initially, which is the only way to properly commit a Hollywood executive execution. Ultimately, the anonymous tipster is probably to blame for the ugliness that followed, but Mr. Zucker could have given Mr. Reilly the courtesy of a conversation as soon as things began to spin out of control.
The press hasn’t shed many tears for Mr. Reilly, who should be credited with supporting some of NBC’s best performers since he took over as entertainment president in 2004. Among those winners are “Heroes,” “Deal or No Deal” and “The Office.”
Mostly, the coverage has focused on Mr. Silverman and his phenomenal success at Reveille. That’s understandable, but we hope media company bosses learn a diplomatic lesson from last week’s upheaval at NBC.


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