Reality TV producer Ben Silverman named NBC Entertainment head
By Christopher Rocchio and Steve Rogers, 05/30/2007
Reality television producer Ben Silverman has been appointed to the newly created role of co-chairman for NBC Entertainment and NBC Universal Television Studio, the broadcast network announced Tuesday.
"We are extremely thrilled to have Ben on board. After years of working with him as an agent, a supplier to both our broadcast and cable networks, and as a producer, we've come to know him as one of the most savvy and successful executives in the industry," said Jeff Zucker, president and CEO of NBC Universal. "I always thought this was the right job for Ben. This new role will give him the opportunity to redefine our programming, our relationship with advertisers, and our ongoing commitment to the new digital frontier."
Silverman will serve as co-chairman with veteran NBC Universal executive Marc Graboff, who will fill NBC's other newly created co-chairman position. Together, the two will take over the responsibilities of former NBC Entertainment president Kevin Reilly, who will be leaving the company. According to Zucker, Silverman and Graboff will be responsible for all aspects of NBC's primetime, late-night and daytime programming, and in addition will also oversee the entertainment division's digital efforts, as well as all of the network and television studio's creative, marketing, business, and financial components. However Zucker also made it abundantly clear that Silverman will be the chief creative officer at NBC, Daily Varietyreported Wednesday.
"He will take the lead in all major programming [decisions]," Zucker told Variety. "He's the leader of the entertainment division."
Silverman, a 36-year-old Tufts University graduate, first rose to prominence when he worked as an agent at William Morris, where he became the company's youngest division head. During his six years at the agency, he started the trend of producing American adaptations of foreign programs when he helped sell Who Wants to be a Millionaire? to ABC and and Big Brother to CBS.
In early 2002, Silverman left his William Morris position to launch Reveille, an independent television and film production and distribution company, with the help of USA Entertainent -- which, at the time, had recently become part of Vivendi Universal Entertainment, which later became part of NBC's 2004 Vivendi Universal merger that created NBC Universal. Michael Jackson, USA Entertainment's chairman and CEO at the time, had previously worked with Silverman when he was in charge of Channel 4, the British television network that broadcasts the U.K. edition of Big Brother (Big Brother, produced by recently-sold global reality TV giant Endemol, first aired in the Netherlands.)
Silverman and Reveille's first project was The Restaurant, an "advertiser supplied" reality series that was financed by "context relevant" advertisers and co-produced by Mark Burnett, who at the time, had already begun blazing the television industry's product placement trend with Survivor. Although it was Reveille's first project, The Restaurant didn't premiere on NBC until July 2003, resulting in Nashville Star -- another Reveille reality project that aired on USA Network, at the time one of USA Entertainent's own cable networks -- making it to air first (Nashville Star premiered four months earlier in March 2003).
In 2003, Silverman began producing The Biggest Loser for NBC, followed by Blow Out -- a hair salon version of The Restaurant -- for Bravo in 2004. Since then, Reveille has been responsible for creating and producing numerous other unscripted shows, including NBC's $25 Million Dollar Hoax and Identity; MTV's Date My Mom and Parental Control; Bravo's Shear Genius; and FX Network's 30 Days.
Along the way, Silverman also began revisiting his William Morris days and acquired the rights to produce American adaptations of the U.K.'s Coupling and The Office and Latin America's Ugly Betty scripted series. Reveille ended up selling Coupling and The Office to NBC and Ugly Betty to ABC, and although Coupling ended up bombing in the ratings stateside, The Office (which won last year's Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy Award) and Ugly Betty (which won this year's Best Comedy Series Golden Globe Award) have giventhe company a strong foothold in scripted programming.
When NBC took over Universal in May 2004, Reveille and Silverman began licensing NBC Universal's program format lineup internationally for NBC and closed more than 50 format deals in over 30 countries in only a year, according to Variety.
"I grew up watching NBC and have always loved this network. So this is a dream job for me," said Silverman. "And what a thrill it is to be partnering with Marc. We have had great success across the table from each other and I can't wait to be working side-by-side with him to help shape NBC's future during this time of incredible excitement and unprecedented change."
The creation of the new role for Silverman and Graboff could be seen as a bit of a surprise, as Reilly's NBC Entertainment president contract had been extended only three months ago and still reportedly had almost three years left on it. However NBC Universal and Reilly reportedly "mutually agreed" to end their relationship after Reilly, a former FX Networks head who had been NBC Entertainment president for three years, learned that Zucker was attempting to hire Silverman, who had become "suddenly available" and being pursued by other media companies and private equity firms, according to Variety. Silverman reportedly doesn't plan to name a new NBC Entertainment president for now but is keeping open the possibility of doing so in the future.
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While Silverman told Variety he's "taking a massive financial hit" by taking the position with NBC, he added he couldn't pass up the opportunity. However he said one of the perks of the deal is that he'll still retain ownership of Reveille.
"I didn't want to sell Reveille," Silverman toldVariety. "Reveille will continue and remain robust. It will service all of its existing shows as it has previously, as well as generate and create new ideas."
However as part of his deal with NBC Universal, Silverman won't be involved in generating any of those new Reveille projects. But that doesn't mean he won't still be dealing with any new programs Reveille creates -- as part of Silverman's hiring, NBC Universal has also extended its existing first-look deal with Reveille for two additional years.