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
HERE’S A NETWORK SCENARIO Tina Fey probably won’t work into 30 Rock. After weeks of checking out rumor after rumor, I’ve finally pinned down details of the long-overdue shakeup that’s ahead for NBC when this fall’s prime-time schedule shapes up to be an unmitigated disaster.
Someone has to shoulder the responsibility, and both Ben Silverman and the Reveille development exec he brought with him to NBC, Teri Weinberg, now deservedly have big, fat targets on their foreheads. Staying in charge will be Marc Graboff and Katherine Pope, who both have been trying to keep NBC up and running while Weinberg continually fucks up and Silverman regularly goes AWOL.
For instance, last Thursday was Silverman’s first day in the office all month after attending the Beijing Olympics and guesting aboard Elisabeth Murdoch’s yacht. (Murdoch’s Shine Group bought Silverman’s Reveille productions, which put $60 million-plus directly into his pocket.) But a pressing issue has been Silverman’s partying ways, especially his excessive off-hours lifestyle, which has prompted complaints from Hollywood’s TV community. “When he’s around, he is totally engaged and focused and not in an altered state of consciousness. But that’s when he’s around. Literally, he has not been around from August 1 until August 28, and you can’t run a network-programming group and not be around for the month of August,” an insider tells me.
Back in May 2007, I broke the story that NBC Universal boss Jeff Zucker was unceremoniously firing NBC Entertainment president Kevin Reilly, and surprisingly hiring Silverman to be partnered with Graboff as co-chairman of NBC Entertainment and NBC Universal Television Studio. It was a very risky move by Zucker, not helped by his cluelessness about Silverman’s drug and alcohol habits until it became a real drama whether Silverman could pass the mandatory corporate drug test for prospective employees.
But TV circles were just as confounded a week later when I scooped that Silverman had hired his Reveille gal Weinberg to be the new EVP of NBC Entertainment. She had been his glorified gofer until just a few years ago, then his Reveille development exec. Now she was in charge of comedy, drama and everything below Silverman and Graboff at NBC Entertainment. At the time, Weinberg’s appointment was seen as a major mistake.
Since then, Weinberg has been a train wreck. “With Ben not involved in the day-to-day, Teri was too inexperienced to be thrown into the deep end of running a broadcast network with no experience. Yet Ben kept delegating it all to her. It became a huge, huge job, which she’s just not qualified for,” one insider explained to me.
Last week, NBC took the unusual, almost unprecedented step of canceling an exclusive contract for a team of TV writer-producers, paying them off to the tune of millions of dollars, and letting them take back every one of their projects developed at the network.
The reason is that one of the show runners was Weinberg’s live-in boyfriend.
Here’s what I’ve been told by several knowledgeable sources: It’s not that the boyfriend, Marc Abrams, and his colleague Michael Benson weren’t qualified. They’d been writer-producers on both The Bernie Mac Show and Entourage. It’s that Weinberg secured for them an exclusive multimillion overall deal at NBC.
Weinberg was specifically warned not to get involved in their business because of the personal relationship. “Other TV writer-producers began assuming that every decision Teri made was influenced by her relationship with her boyfriend’s company,” a source told me. “If she didn’t buy something of theirs, they complained she was protecting her boyfriend’s pitch. The truth is that this appearance of a conflict was really starting to hurt NBC’s business.” Echoed another source: “NBC couldn’t deal with the conflict of interest anymore, so Zucker told Graboff to terminate the deal. And the network last week wrote a fat check for the whole amount of the contract even though it still had a year and a half to go, and they gave the guys all their projects back, which they’re now free to shop.”
As for Silverman, I’m told NBC was impressed that his relationships with advertisers put “several hundred millions of dollars” of additional revenue into the network’s 2008/2009 upfront sales. But that doesn’t offset the fact that Silverman is widely seen as a major disappointment. “If only NBC could take the good of Ben and ignore the bad of Ben,” one insider put it.
THE LAUNDRY LIST OF SILVERMAN’S faults reached critical mass after he began negotiating to sell Reveille and knew he would soon have the proverbial “fuck-you money” to tell Zucker to take the NBC job and shove it. The whispers about Silverman’s off-duty behavior became loud chatter, when he was drunk and disorderly at this year’s Super Bowl, where he notoriously made a fool of himself with NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg.