Mavericks: NBC’s Jeff Zucker and Ben Silverman

The return of Peacock Power
June 1, 2008

The return of Peacock Power
In many ways, you can only really be a maverick if your boss lets you.

If that’s the case, then Ben Silverman, co-chairman of NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios, has been given lots of rope. In fact, it can be argued that his boss, Jeff Zucker, is as big a mold-breaker as Silverman.

At NATPE, for example, Zucker stunned audiences by announcing the death of the pilot season. Said the head of NBC Universal: gone are the days that saw 20 pilots launched in unison at a particular point on the calendar. Instead, look for five or six shows to launch in pilot over the course of the year, and many more to be commissioned as short series from the outset.

The Brits might recognize this model, as putting your programming money where your mouth is is the norm across the Atlantic, but it’s far from the norm in paranoid, focus-tested La La Land. The time has come, says Zucker, for NBC to grow a pair and ‘have the courage of [its] convictions.’ Also pushing up the daisies, he notes, are NBC’s May upfronts. Given the spacing of show launches, Zucker insisted it makes more sense to do in-house presentations to media agencies instead.

Zucker has his execs thinking outside the box on all levels. In fact, NBC recently partnered with competitor News Corp on an online video distribution site called Hulu, a service which will provide full, streaming episodes of TV shows with ads embedded, merging the best of online with broadcast’s bottom line. Last year, NBC also separated its cable and network programs, bringing all cable programming under the remit of Bonnie Hammer, freeing the network to concentrate on its main area of expertise.

That last move has got to be good news for Ben Silverman. Silverman, who recently won an Honorary Rose – as in d’Or – for lifetime achievement (but the dude’s, like, 30…), has taken the broadcast reins at NBC and run with them. The brains and prime mover behind us hits/adaptations like Ugly Betty, The Office, The Biggest Loser and others, Silverman is setting up the Peacock to be a prime player in the years to come.

Most recently, it was announced that Project Runway prodco Magical Elves signed an exclusive deal with NBC and its cable and wireless properties. So, while Lifetime just paid $150 million to secure the rights to the hit show away from Bravo, the producers won’t come along for the ride. Expect many more such coups to come from Silverman’s ever-churning brain.

Now, if he would just bring back The West Wing.

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