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Ben Silverman Exits NBC Universal: Quality TV Stock Futures Rise
July 28, 2009  | By David Bianculli

TV executives are people, too -- but unlike most people, especially in this economy, they have the uncanny ability to fail up, and parachute into increasingly lucrative deals once being forced or steered out of their jobs.

So I don't feel sorry for Ben Silverman, whose exit as co-chairman of NBC Universal was announced yesterday. But I am happy for the potential future of quality TV at that network, because Silverman, in his NBC post, sure wasn't providing much of it...


The best dramas under his reign, Friday Night Lights and Life, were either sublet to satellite TV to reduce costs or cancelled outright. The best comedies on his schedule were 30 Rock, which predated his arrival, and The Office (which did as well, but he was an executive producer of that Americanized remake, as he was of ABC's Ugly Betty). In both cases, nothing he did increased the audiences for those shows substantially, even in a year in which Tina Fey infected the entire country with her version of Sarah Palin fever.

That's a shamefully short list of excellent TV shows, especially for the network that, when "mired in third place" in the early 1980s, launched its Must-See TV campaign in the first place. But under Silverman, when NBC was mired in FOURTH place (and with Univision gaining fast), NBC was a lot more concerned with program costs, production deals and product placement than whether what was on the air was any god or not.


Bionic Woman and Knight Rider remakes didn't HAVE to be awful ideas for remakes -- but under Silverman, they certainly were, as was Kath & Kim. And while surrendering five hours of weekly prime time to Jay Leno may save the network's bottom line, the bottom line for quality TV is that those are five fewer hours for quality scripted TV. Not that NBC is doing much of that these days anyway.

Perhaps the lowest NBC has sunk, under Silverman, has been this summer's move to revive an old ABC reality-show stinker, I'm a Celebrity -- Get Me Out of Here. That was when I decided NBC's new slogan should be changed to "I Used to be a Network -- Get Me Out of Here."

And now it's Silverman who's out, and Jeff Gaspin, who at least was witness to former NBC programming chief Brandon Tartikoff's "Must-See TV" reign, who's in. Bonnie Hammer, who has done such great work with the cable side of things, apparently must wait her turn, but I'm guessing not for long.

But that's only if making good TV, once again, becomes something the folks at NBC begin to care about. If they don't want to be mired in FIFTH place by 2012, they'd better start caring, quickly.




emorgan said:

Thanks for mentioning Farrah Fawcett in your "Best Bets". Farrah was, indeed, a very under-appreciated actress. However, if the made-for-tv movie "Small Sacrifices" (based on an actual case) runs on tv anytime soon, please advise your readers to watch. Farrah is absolutely riveting & chilling as the murderous mom. Ryan O'Neal is terrific, as is John Shea as the prosecutor who eventually adopts the surviving children.

Unfortunately, in the media frenzy following Michael Jackson's death, Farrah was sort of passed over. But down the line, as her movies and appearances begin to surface, people will realize what a good actress she was. Not to mention human being.

So, thanks again for mentioning her so sweetly.

[You're absolutely right -- Small Sacrifices was terrific, and she was the reason. -- David B.]

Comment posted on July 28, 2009 9:16 AM

Sean Dougherty said:

You're right this can't hurt. I wonder if it's too late for his successor to get the gang from Life back together...

Comment posted on July 28, 2009 2:12 PM

Davey said:

Whatever idiot hired Silverman will still be there to hire the next one, and still giving the "direction" that Silverman was presumably trying to follow. There's more to a corporate culture of mediocrity than just one hireling. I think the only hope for NBC is for GE to sell it off to somebody willing to raze it to the ground and start over from scratch.

Comment posted on July 29, 2009 4:51 PM
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