By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
I remember my old friend Tartikoff boasting about Ben: “He’s good for the Jews.” Funny, that’s also how Silverman was describing his NBC ascent over Memorial Day weekend to his pals: “It’s good for the Jews.”
Only a Hollywood mogul can say that with impunity. Ben was just channeling Tevye: “In our little village, you might say that every one of us is a fiddler on the roof: trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn’t easy.”
That’s why I heard from a lot of Hollywood insiders all weekend who thought Silverman would come to his senses and not take the NBC job since it would be like taking a gig on the Titanic. Luckily for the network, he said yes before he’d seen the lamest pilot pickup, a re-imagining of the ’70s hit The Bionic Woman.
One reason my scoop roiled NBC headquarters at 30 Rock and Burbank is that Zucker had to speed up the final negotiations with Ben. But the other damage was that Zucker looked like a putz for the shabby way he’d treated Kevin from start to finish.
Reilly came to NBC as the celebrated FX programming chief responsible for the extreme Nip/Tuck and The Shield. But Reilly found that all NBC wanted to do was save money after pouring too many dollars down the drain on shoulda-woulda-coulda development that didn’t garner ratings.
The churlishness Zucker consistently showed Reilly was childish even for the network playground. Show-biz reporters often found themselves caught in the middle of “he said, she said” debates between their dueling publicists, Corey Shields (Zucker’s protector) and Rebecca Marks (Reilly’s gatekeeper) — an unheard-of situation inside the same entertainment company. Rumors that Reilly was about to get canned emanated mostly from Zucker’s office. They finally stopped only this March when Reilly was re-upped. Who knew Zucker would pay off that new contract less than three months later?
As for NBC’s miseries, when I saw its prime-time plan for next year, I thought: If NBC thinks it’s going to get to No. 1 with this schedule, it’s delusional. For the most part, the shows are way too safe — especially when CBS’s Nancy Tellem is developing edgy programming and ABC’s Steve McPherson campy programming to keep their networks on top. The very idea that there’s no new NBC comedy on the schedule this fall and only one mid-season after eight laugher pilots were ordered demonstrates NBC’s reluctance to roll the dice. This is suicide considering all the cheap schlock airing in the 8 p.m. slot (soon, a Singing Bee crapfest) per Zucker’s orders. Instead of new shows, NBC is stockpiling old ones: 30 episodes of The Office, 25 eps of My Name Is Earl, 30 eps of Heroesand its new spinoff. This is partly out of strike fears and partly to reduce the number of repeats as a strategy to fix this big complaint among viewers.
Needless to say, Madison Avenue hated the sked.
So Zucker needed a fall guy in more ways than one. Ergo Reilly’s ouster despite having produced a bona fide hit show a year (My Name Is Earl, The Office, Heroes) since taking over. Looking back, Reilly predicted his own demise at his May upfront presentation to advertisers when a projection screen behind him showed the words “Big fat disappointment” to describe the horrible season it had been. Soon enough, NBC’s parent company General Electric will be saying the same about Zucker’s fatally flawed tenure.
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