Tuned In: New NBC exec says he's landed dream job

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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif.

All eyes were on the new NBC Entertainment co-chairman, Ben Silverman, yesterday during his first presentation in front of TV critics since taking over the job in late May.

Mitchell Haaseth
NBC Entertainment co-chairman Ben Silverman says he'll follow the example of his predecessor, who believed classy programming would beget a mass audience.
Click photo for larger image.

Tuned In Journal

More coverage from the TV critics summer press tour, including GSN's "Without Prejudice" and party reports, can be found in Tuned In Journal at post-gazette.com/tv.

Why? So many reasons. He replaced the well-liked Kevin Reilly, who's now in a similar position at competitor Fox. Reilly developed critical darlings "Friday Night Lights" and "30 Rock," but NBC's ratings continued to falter.

Silverman, 36, is charming and a different breed compared to most NBC/GE executives. He likes to party, and he's from a younger generation than big boss Jeff Zucker, widely viewed as the cause of NBC's hard times even as he's been promoted up the NBC Universal corporate ladder.

Silverman excelled as a producer who adapted foreign shows for American audiences, including ABC's "Ugly Betty" and NBC's "The Office." He's also had success in the reality realm with USA's "Nashville Star" and NBC's "The Restaurant."

Now he gets to fulfill his childhood dream of running a TV network, and he promised to follow the example of Reilly, who believed class would beget a mass audience.

"This is the philosophy that led to 'Hill Street Blues,' that led to 'Seinfeld,' " Silverman said. "It's a philosophy that's served NBC and quality programming well for years, so it will absolutely continue under Marc's and my watch."

Marc Graboff is the other co-chairman of NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios. He said the key is to show some patience and attempt to grow "FNL" and "30 Rock" into hits, "not just great, quality shows that never caught on like 'Arrested Development.' "

In an effort to better position "FNL" and other series, NBC announced some schedule changes from what was announced in May. "FNL" remains on Friday but will air at 9 p.m. beginning Oct. 5 with "Deal or No Deal" as a lead-in and "Las Vegas" at 10 p.m.

On Mondays, new light drama "Chuck" will now start the night at 8 starting Sept. 24, and summer hit "The Singing Bee" will air at 9:30 p.m. Tuesdays starting Sept. 25.

Other announcements:

Jerry Seinfeld will guest star as himself on the Oct. 4 season premiere of "30 Rock."

Dismissed "Grey's Anatomy" star Isaiah Washington will guest star in five out of the first six episodes of the new "Bionic Woman." Washington was accused of uttering a homophobic slur on the "Grey's" set, which he denied, then apologized for, then blamed racism for his firing. He'll develop an action series with NBC for 2008, which led one critic to wonder if Michael Richards, last seen shouting the N-word at a comedy club, will soon be hired by NBC.

Silverman has signed his hero, veteran producer Norman Lear ("All in the Family"), to produce/mentor a young writer who's creating a one-hour comedy-drama about the battle of the sexes.

Back-from-the-dead "The Apprentice" will return with a celebrity edition once again overseen by Donald Trump; Silverman said Trump suggested they attempt to cast Rosie O'Donnell as a contestant.

NBC is developing "Phenomenon," a reality competition show with Uri Geller and Criss Angel trying to find "the next great mentalist."

Graboff said Conan O'Brien will still take over "The Tonight Show" in 2009, but he said NBC hopes to find a place for Jay Leno, maybe even in prime time, saying, "We love Jay Leno, and we're beyond interested in wanting him to stay at NBC for life."

Moffat on Zucker

Silverman's hiring has certainly created buzz in the Hollywood creative community, but NBC's woes as the fourth-place network may not completely disappear until Zucker does. He created much ill will, as evidenced in a BBC America press conference where the creator of the British "Coupling" blamed Zucker for the failure of the American version in 2003, when Zucker was NBC's Entertainment president.

"Very, very good writing team. Very, very good cast. The network [screwed] it up because they intervened endlessly," said writer Steven Moffat, who's now scripting BBC America's "Jekyll," premiering at 8 p.m. Aug. 4. "If you really want a job to work, don't get Jeff Zucker's team to come help you with it because they're not funny.

"I can say that because I don't care about working for NBC. But I think I'm entitled to say that because I think the way in which NBC slagged off the creative team on American 'Coupling' after its failure was disgraceful and traitorous. So I enjoy slagging them off. That's the end of my career in L.A. I'll be leaving shortly."

Patinkin out of 'Minds'

Mandy Patinkin, who quit "Chicago Hope" after its first season, is now bailing on CBS's "Criminal Minds." In a statement to a fan Web site, executive producer Ed Bernero confirmed over the weekend that Patinkin is leaving the series, not due to any dispute evidently, but because he simply decided he's done.

"Mr. Patinkin told the show, the studios and the network the he was returning right up to the day before we started shooting the first episode and then simply did not show up," Bernero explained.

A clearly peeved Bernero continued, "He gave us no advance notice that anything was wrong, no opportunity to find a way to make the loss of this character work, no indication that we should be looking for someone else, no warning that we might have to rewrite the first seven scripts (which is how far ahead we try to work) without the central character in them."

CBS issued a statement yesterday saying Patinkin asked to be released from his "Criminal Minds" contract and his departure will be explained in an upcoming episode. The network said his departure was "not in any way connected to contract renegotiations or salary issues."

For his part, Patinkin, in a statement, chalked up his exit to "creative differences."

Bettis back on NBC

A year ago, former Steelers player Jerome Bettis was the freshman analyst on NBC's "Sunday Night Football." This year, it's Tiki Barber, who will also host the fourth hour of NBC's "Today." Bettis' advice to Barber? Be careful of the advice you take.

"It was a pretty unique experience for me coming into a group of guys that were so accomplished. I was trying to feel my way around and understand and try to pick their brains," Bettis said. "Unfortunately, you get bad advice at times."

Bettis said he'd told co-host Cris Collinsworth that his gut feeling was that Steelers coach Bill Cowher would not be with the Steelers after the 2006-07 season. Collinsworth urged him to share that theory on the air. He did, and the advice backfired.

"When I was here a year ago, the city of Pittsburgh loved me," Bettis said. "I say, 'Coach Cowher may be leaving Pittsburgh,' and a firestorm ensued. I was back in Pittsburgh right after and a cab driver said, 'Hey, Bettis, you suck!' I'm saying to myself, where did this come from?"

Later, in Cincinnati, "where they don't like me too much," Bettis said, he again followed Collinsworth's suggestion to show off his Steelers Super Bowl ring.

"Five minutes later, 10 security members had to escort me out of the stadium because of Cris' advice," Bettis said. "It's the way you present the information, in retrospect. My advice to Tiki is to be careful of the information you get."

Bettis, who lives with his family in Atlanta, will again fly into Pittsburgh to tape WPXI's "The Jerome Bettis Show" Fridays during football season.

Natives doing well

Two Pittsburgh natives are doing well in the TV business despite a challenging economic climate.

Even though there's a dearth of traditional sitcoms, James Widdoes has been busy. He directed the whole first season of TBS's "The Bill Engvall Show," premiering at 9 tonight. Later this month he'll be back at work, directing half the season's episodes of CBS's "Two and a Half Men" and half the season's episodes of Fox's "'Til Death."

Brett King, the brother of KDKA news anchor Patrice King Brown, who previously worked at Paramount and The WB, has landed at BET as senior vice president of scripted programming. It's a new position for the network, which is branching out from music video programs and reality shows to develop comedy and drama series. King will help develop and oversee these shows from a network perspective.

'Farscape,' 'BSG' webisodes

The "Farscape" franchise will live on as a live-action Web series. Sci Fi Channel executive Craig Engler confirmed that the company has closed a deal with the Jim Henson Company for a 10-episode webisode series. So far no stars or writers are signed to appear and no story plotted, but if successful, the project could lead to re-igniting the franchise on the air.

Further along in development, the company will launch "Battlestar Galactica" mini-sodes related to fall's "Battlestar" movie "Razor," debuting Nov. 24. Eight episodes running two or three minutes each will first air on Sci Fi Channel (air dates/times yet to be determined) and later at SciFi.com.

The mini-sodes tell the story of a young Commander Adama (Nico Cortez) who discovers a dangerous Cylon weapon during the Cylon War that will come back to haunt him and his crew 40 years later.

The film "Battlestar Galactica: Razor" will show viewers Lee Adama (Jamie Bamber) on his first mission as commander of the Battlestar Pegasus and will reveal how former Pegasus leader Admiral Cain (Michelle Forbes) dealt with the original Cylon attack on the Colonies.

Channel surfing

Good news for 'MI-5' fans: BBC America will pick up the unaired-in-America seasons of the British series for airing at an unscheduled date. ... "The Whitest Kids You Know" will move from Fuse to sister-network IFC for its second season. ... During a session over the weekend for Showtime's "Californication," actor David Duchovny said he and Gillian Anderson are committed to making another "X-Files" movie, saying, "I'm supposed to see a script next week."


Post-Gazette TV editor Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour. You can reach him at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com .


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