Consider this like the blog version of scenes from an episode that was never finished. With NBC unveiling their next season’s plans in a scaled-back presentation to advertisers today, I was reminded by a post on Time’s Tuned In blog about my impressions of NBC head Ben Silverman. He was supposed to attend the Banff World Television Festival last year as the successful producer behind Ugly Betty and The Office, among others. Two weeks before the festival, he was given the top job at NBC, but he wanted to honour his commitment so he appeared via satellite instead.
I always regretted not finishing this post for Blogcritics. Even though he didn’t appear in person, the session moderated by the New York Times’ Bill Carter was one of my favourites that year, plus Silverman was big news at the time. But I didn’t have time to write it up while I was in Banff, I was burned out and then busy with the day job when I got home, and the moment passed me by.
There were lots of articles in the Canadian media coming out of it anyway, which also led to my hesitation. They tended to make the most of his comments that he liked Little Mosque on the Prairie and was coming to Canada with his shopping cart – none of those articles quite connected the dots that Silverman is known for remaking foreign shows, not importing them wholesale. NBC did pick up the Canadian series The Listener during the mini fire sale that happened during the strike — before it started production, so there’s still time for NBC to put their stamp on it — but Little Mosque remains on the shelf.
Anyway, here’s the rough draft beginnings of my Silverman post from June 2007, for what it’s worth. Don’t expect a lot of flow from one idea to the next – it’s a very incomplete draft.
New NBC Co-Chair Ben Silverman Inspires … and Frightens a Little
Ben Silverman makes me feel like a slacker. I’m sure he accomplishes more before breakfast than I possibly could in an entire year. It would probably be more accurate to say “lifetime,” but that’s just too depressing to admit. At the age of 35, he’s now one of the most powerful men in television thanks to his new title as co-chair of NBC, in charge of both the network and the studio.
If I worked for NBC, I’d be quaking after hearing him say, “I’m definitely the last person to leave the building, which is a culture I want to change.” I don’t think he meant he’s going to start going home earlier. “I place the highest expectation on my self, and then in turn I hope that rubs off on people around me,” he added.
Yet after listening to him for an hour via satellite at the Banff World Television Festival, I have a feeling that if he asked me to drink the Kool-Aid, I’d have a hard time resisting. He came across as a charismatic, inspirational leader, the kind of person who can say things like “I believe in karma and goodness” without sounding the slightest bit corny. His appearance at the festival – albeit not in person, as originally intended when he was “just” the CEO of Reveille Productions a mere two weeks before he was to come to Banff – is a testament to that philosophy, since it would have been difficult to blame the man for cancelling after his work day suddenly got a whole lot busier.
Reveille is the production company behind Ugly Betty, The Office, Known for reality but also successful in scripted, reputation for finding the best international and remaking them for an American audience.
So as head of all that, why accept a job taking over a struggling, fourth-place network? “Even a Golden Globe award-winning producer is still Willy Loman,” Silverman said. And even the head of a fourth-place network – who also has control over the studio – is more than Loman. “There’s a saying that it’s the seat, not the person, meaning as long as you’re in this chair they love you,” he explained. “It’s transparent and obvious – in a town that stabs you in the front while massaging your back, it’s clear this holds a lot of power in this community.”
That wasn’t the only appeal. Silverman’s father was a musical director at the Stratford Festival, while his mother was an opera singer and theatre producer before becoming a television executive who subscribed her eager 12-year-old son to Variety. After interning with Warner Brothers, Silverman worked for Brandon Tartikoff. He thinks his background as head of a successful production company, knowing all aspects of the business, rather than the usual ladder up the network is a huge advantage in an industry that’s facing upheaval.
“I grew up watching NBC. My mentors were from NBC,” said Silverman. “I feel like I am the perfect storm to do the job.”
His vision might be to challenge top-rated CBS, but it’s definitely not to become the next CBS. “I’m not into violence, I’m not into pedophilia, I’m not into serial killers.” Fortunately for Chris Hansen, among others, he’s not in charge of Dateline NBC, which falls under the news division.
Before he signed off, he thanked the crowd in Canada and added: “I have to give a shout out to Little Mosque on the Prairie. I think you guys are creating awesome television there as well. No stone unturned: I’ll be coming up with my shopping bag soon.”
[At the end, as usual when I’m drafting something, I stuffed all the raw quotes I was thinking of using in the article. It’s too much to summarize here, as I didn’t have much focus, just wanted to dump a lot of what he’d said out there. I was going to come back to the drinking the Kool-Aid thing — about his untested, sometimes wonky ideas for turning the network around contrasting somewhat with how inspiring he is in talking about them.]