Ben Silverman: An Employee Evaluation
While the Movieline office adds another Sarah McLachlan song to our Goodbye, Ben Silverman mix CD, we look back at Silverman's all-too-short career at NBC. Behold, Movieline's 3rd Party Employee Evaluation.
Name: Ben Silverman
Position: Co-Chairman of NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios
Dates Employed: May 2007 - August 2009
Employee Strengths: Advertising integration, multi-media distribution, repackaging international programming (although not successfully while at NBC's helm), attracting press attention.
Employee Weakness: Frat boy behavior (name-calling, partying with caged white tigers and locker room freestyling).
Describe the goals he had set out to accomplish for this time period:
"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." [TV Week]
Which of these goals did he accomplish?
Well, none really. NBC remained the No. 4 network (following CBS, Fox and ABC) over the past three years, a disappointing performance that cost GE about a billion dollars in ad sales. Earlier this month, NBC Universal announced that its operating profit was down 41 percent in its second quarter.
The network once associated with Seinfeld and Friends aired a series of insta-cancellations like Knight Rider, American Gladiators and My Own Worst Enemy. NBC became known more for its product placement (Subway, Ford, Apple, McFlurry) than quality. To add insult to peacock-crushing injury, Nikki Finke called Silverman's reign a "new network primetime record for failure."
Why did he fail to meet any of the goals he set for himself?
The writers strike? Arrogance? Dramatic miscalculations about America's interest in '80s reboots and programs that blurred the line between entertainment and advertising? Too many tigers? Not enough tigers? Your guess is as good as mine, but here are some of Silverman's remarks on a few of his programs' cancellations:
Quarterlife: "It was probably the wrong concept," he said. "Had we been the MTV audience, that show might have worked." [TV Week]
Chuck: "[Barack Obama is] using the media the way we use and advertisers use the media, and its effect is impressive. It's not helping us get any normal rhythm this year. It hurt the fall. I think it hurt Chuck -- we had the huge 3-D episode, its highest rating in the year, then it was pre-empted the next Monday with no notice. But he's our president, and whatever he needs we are going to do." [THR]
Which other objectives did he meet, beyond his stated goals?
He single-handedly brought Rosie O'Donnell back to network television, if only for one night. He managed to sneak at least two Subway references into each act of every two-hour Biggest Loser episode. He replaced Leno with Conan, Conan with Fallon and did the unthinkable by bringing Leno to prime time.
What were some his most successful programming ideas?
Parks and Recreation, Southland, extending Friday Night Lights with the help of DIRECTV.
What were some of his worst ideas?
Reviving Knight Rider and American Gladiators. Southland, Lipstick Jungle, My Own Worst Enemy, Quarterlife, Kath and Kim, Howie Do It and Rosie Live.
How does he account for the bad press?
"The unrelenting press attention was something I didn't expect, and I don't think I managed it as well as I could. [...] I am the only person doing this job that's single, the only person under 40, I just think there are other elements that may play into it." [Broadcasting Cable]
What is next for NBC?
Silverman will stay at NBC for a few weeks to help the network transition into the fall schedule. Jeff Gaspin will become chairman of NBC Entertainment and Universal, just in time for the Television Critics Association event.
The upcoming fall schedule sticks largely with the network's mainstays (Law and Order, Law and Order: SVU, Heroes, 30 Rock and The Office) and two new medical dramas (Mercy and Trauma.) Silverman's most expensive gamble, The Jay Leno Show premieres September 14 on Gaspin's watch.
If NBC wants to break back into the Top 3 rated networks and reclaim its feathers, Gaspin needs to produce a few series that hold up against American Idol numbers, and maybe stay away from tigers and harmonicas.