The TV Column: 20th Century Fox TV’s Salke to lead NBC entertainment programming


Judges L.A. Reid, Nicole Scherzinger, Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and host Steve Jones in ‘The X Factor,’ a singing competition debuting in September on Fox. (Ray Mickshaw/Fox)
July 13, 2011

NBC has named its new president of entertainment programming: Jennifer Salke, who comes from the TV production division at 20th Century Fox, which is owned by News Corp.

Salke and Robert Greenblatt, who is chairman of NBC Entertainment — and the guy who hired her — have known each other for ages. She worked for Aaron Spelling in the 1990s, when Spelling sold the prime-time soaps “Beverly Hills, 90210” and “Melrose Place” to the new Fox network — where Greenblatt was working as a young programming exec.

Since 2006, Salke’s been executive vice president of creative affairs at 20th Century Fox TV.

That’s where NBC — in Wednesday’s announcement — said she gets to claim credit for developing “Glee” and “Modern Family” in one season, although we’re guessing the actual creators of those shows — Ryan Murphy on “Glee” and Steve Levitan and Christopher Lloyd on “Modern Family” — would like to take that credit.

Salke is also credited (in an EVP-of-creative-affairs kinda way) with two new series that NBC is going to air this coming season: “The Playboy Club” and “Awake.”

“The Playboy Club” is about a club member in ’60s Chicago who’s a lawyer with mob connections — and who helps a bunny when she accidentally puts her stiletto heel through the skull of a mob boss.

“Awake” is about a detective living in two realities: one in which his wife has died in a car crash and the other in which his son has died. One is a dream, and he doesn’t know which — and doesn’t want to know, because he doesn’t want to lose either family member.

But getting back to Salke: She’s been at TCFTV since 2002 — which is like 100 TV-industry years — having started as a senior veep of drama development.

There, according to NBC’s announcement, she was “instrumental” in the creation of “Bones” and “Prison Break.”

All-Star Simon

About 11 million people watching the MLB All-Star Game Tuesday on Fox were treated to a preview of Simon Cowell’s new singing-competition series, “The X Factor,” in which a slew of hopefuls auditioned by butchering “Tomorrow” — which, yes, we know, is redundant.

“It’s not about me anymore. It’s about them,” Simon’s voice is heard saying as one auditioner after another tackles “Tomorrow” — except for the guy who goes with “Danny Boy” instead.

“I want to make people’s dreams come true. I even think about the environment,” Simon says as he gets into an electric Volt car.

Of course, it’s all just a nightmare, from which Simon awakes, saying, “Wow — what a horrible nightmare!” Then he jumps into his gas-hogging, guys-overcompensating car and drives off to meet his fellow judges, who are getting out of their gas-hog private jets while the tune “Live and Let Die” plays in the air.

Cut to a montage of Simon during actual non-“Tomorrow” auditions:

“That was horrific.”

“Absolute total rubbish.”

“You are deluded.”

Simon faces the camera:

“What else did you expect?”

Oprah hires herself

And now we know what Oprah Winfrey meant when she told those TV suits meeting in Chicago a few weeks ago that they shouldn’t bet against her.

OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network — a co-venture of Winfrey’s company and Silver Spring-based Discovery Communications — announced Wednesday that Oprah is expanding her role as chairman of the cable network to become its permanent CEO and its chief creative officer in the fall.

And the two current presidents of her Harpo Studios will become presidents of OWN, effective immediately. They will “work closely with” Discovery Communications’s chief operating officer, Peter Ligouri, who found himself cast as in the role of OWN interim chief executive back in May when the channel bounced then-CEO Christina Norman.

Those two Harpo presidents will oversee production for “Rosie,” which is Rosie O’Donnell’s new daily talk show, debuting in October; “Oprah Presents: Master Class”; “In the Bedroom With Dr. Laura Berman”; “Oprah’s Next Chapter,” which is set to debut in January; and other programs. In fact, Harpo, which produced Oprah’s syndicated talk show, will now devote all its TV producing energies exclusively to fueling OWN, the companies said in Wednesday’s announcement.

OWN opened to strong numbers in January, but four months later it was at times attracting fewer viewers than had the Discovery Health network it replaced.

Olbermann vs. Murdoch

On his Current TV show “Countdown,” Keith Olbermann claimed Tuesday that Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Sports channel “blackmailed” him while he was on the payroll.

Olbermann’s claims come in the wake of the media baron’s decision to shutter News of the World, one of his signature British newspapers, amid a spreading phone-hacking scandal that has threatened Murdoch’s globe-spanning conglomerate.

Olbermann claimed on his Tuesday telecast that in June of 2000, while working for Fox Sports, he got sick and his doctor told him he needed to cut back on his work schedule or “he would be treating me for heart disease within the decade.”

“I took him very seriously,” Olbermann told his viewers. But when he told Fox Sports suits he wanted to cut back his hours from six days a week to five — while offering to take a pay cut — he said that “they immediately took me off the air.”

Olbermann called this “a prudent business decision.” He said he was told they would not put him back on the air until he got a letter from his doctor guaranteeing them he was fit to work. Then, he said, they “blackmailed me with it.”

And by “blackmailed,” he meant that Fox Sports offered him two options: He could anchor four days from Los Angeles and fly to different cities twice a week for interviews, events and/or promos, which Olbermann described as “threatening to work me into illness, or into the hospital, or both.”

Or: He could agree to work just three days a week for a 60 percent pay cut, Olbermann claimed.

“They were blackmailing me about my health,” Olbermann complained.

“And that’s the way it works. Lord only knows, if it works so well against someone with resources and a high profile like mine,” he said modestly, “how often was it used against lesser figures in the company?”

On Wednesday afternoon, Fox Sports responded: “It’s unfortunate that Keith chooses to dwell on the past, but he should remember that folks at Fox have different recollections of his tenure with us, but life is too short.”

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