Ratings-Poor NBC Ousts Programming Chief Reilly

By John Maynard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Less than a week after concluding one of its least watched seasons ever, fourth-place NBC fired entertainment president Kevin Reilly, the network announced yesterday.

The network will replace him with two co-chairmen: Ben Silverman, an independent producer behind NBC's "The Office" and "The Biggest Loser" and ABC's "Ugly Betty"; and NBC West Coast President Marc Graboff, who has been with the network since 2000.

"Obviously one of our major goals is to turn around NBC's prime-time ratings performance, and I am confident that both Ben and Marc will lead us on that road," NBC Universal President Jeff Zucker said yesterday in a conference call with reporters.

Silverman, 36, and Graboff, 51, will report to Zucker.

The announcement came three months after Reilly, who came to NBC in 2004 from the FX cable network, signed a "multi-year" deal with the network to remain as president.

Zucker characterized Reilly's dismissal yesterday as a "mutual decision" and "amicable." He added: "Kevin brought us a number of fine programs and his legacy will be well intact."

NBC finished fourth among the networks this year in total viewers and in key demographics for advertisers, including 18- to 49-year-olds. In that age group, the network had its worst showing since the advent of the Nielsen "people meter" ratings system in 1987. (All Nielsen data, it should be noted, is subject to a small margin of error that varies according to sample size and the number of viewers tuned to a particular program.)

NBC had no Top 10 shows this season. Besides the network's fall telecast of "Sunday Night Football," which finished No. 13 for the season with 16.5 million viewers, the network's only hits were the game show "Deal or No Deal" (15 million viewers) and "Heroes" (14.4 million) -- shows that Reilly brought to the network.

This month NBC announced its new fall schedule, bringing back many of its critically acclaimed but low-rated series, such as "30 Rock," "My Name Is Earl" and "Friday Night Lights."

"We got the class -- we need the mass," Reilly told critics during the annual network presentations this month in New York. NBC's new schedule has no scripted series at 8 p.m. except on Thursday, and includes no new sitcoms for the first time in nearly 30 years.

Said Zucker: "The reaction to our fall schedule remains incredibly strong."

NBC unveiled five new shows for the fall, including a remake of "The Bionic Woman" and a drama series about a time-traveling newspaper reporter.

Zucker said the timing of Reilly's departure had "nothing to do" with the announcement of the new schedule, but rather was a result of Silverman's availability to leave his production company Reveille, which he founded in 2002.

Of Silverman, Zucker said: "He was looking to do something different with his production company and his career, and that made me realize that this is a guy who I had talked to about coming to NBC . . . and the timing had never been right. I acted quickly to see if this might be the right time for him."

Silverman, who's produced other shows for NBC Universal cable channels, including USA Network's "Nashville Star" and Bravo's "Blow Out," said the new position is "a dream job for me. This is what I've always wanted to do."

As for division of labor between the co-chairmen, Graboff said yesterday that he will be "the point person on the business and financial and operational, administrative-type things like I have always been. Ben will be the point person on creative and programming and scheduling and marketing."

When asked during the conference call what would happen if the two chairmen deadlocked on a decision, Zucker quipped: "Tie goes to me."

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