"I still can't believe I'm finally here," said Fred SIlverman with the boyish delight of an unleashed tot at Disneyland. Silverman really is here though, as the new president and chief executive officer of NBC, and for his 10th day in office yesterday, he faced representatives from the TV network's affiliated stations at their annual meeting.
In testimony to his status as the reigning golden boy and most profit-compulsive kingpin in all of television, Silverman drew a record turnout of 744 station personnel - most of them looking as if they held winning tickets on the Triple Crown.
In his speech, Silverman was full of high and good news. The good news included the fact that John Chancellor, who had planned to step down this summer from his co-anchor role on the NBC Nightly News, has been persuaded to put off his plans to turn commentator and will stay on as anchorman for "at least" another year.
Silverman wouldn't say he personally persuaded Chancellor, but it seemed obvious. "It was (NBC News President) Les Crystal who did it," Silverman said, during an impromptu appearance in the the press room at the afiliates convention. Asked if he had played a role, Silverman joked, "Well, I was consulted," and said, "I've always been a big fan of John Chancellor's."
NBC-TV President Robert E. Mulholland told the crowd that NBC is "a network that has not been 'waiting for Freddie,'" as was reported, but rather "a network that is 'ready for Freddie,'" More-than-ready might have been more accurate since Silverman is seen as the man who can at least guide miracles if not single handedly work them, and who can help the network move from third place to first.
At a party for the affiliates Sunday night, recent NBC acquistion C.J. Simpson was called upon to sign authographs, and Gilda Radner of NBC's "Saturday Night Live" had her share of admirers, but the short and portly Silverman was constantly the center of attention as he stood encircled by the hopeful and the faithful.
For 4 1/2 months, SIlverman waited in limbo - and in Hawaii - for his contract as president of ABC entertainment to expire - he was enjoined from actually taking over NBC until it did. Yesterday he said he spent the time getting to know his family, which now includes a 1 1/2-year-old son. "At least the kids know they have a father now," Silverman said.
"On a personal basis, it was very important to me," SIlverman said "I think maybe it added a couple of years to my life."
What he will do with a couple more years is anybody's guess, since NBC is the last network left for him to lead to glory and, though it finished a strong second in recent and crucial May ratings "sweeps," is still in third-place for prime time. If Silverman pulls this one off, he will have become the most successful executive in the history of broadcasting.
He is already the most publicized and discussed. Asked for his reaction to the enormous amount of attention all the media have showered on his takeover of NBC, Silverman said, "I was surprised by the amount of coverage. It's not that big an event, really. I think it was blown out of all proportion. However," he added, smiling broadly, "now it's over and we can get back to work."
In his speech to the affiliates, Silverman said of his plans for NBC, "There's been a lot of speculation - and most of it wrong." He seemed especially anxious, as during a recent closed-circuit address to NBCstations, to banish suspicious that he would downplay or interfere with the net-work's widely respected news operation in order to divert more resources toward entertainment programming.
Earlier in the day, Mulhollan told the affiliates, "NBC thinks respect matters in news. That will not change at NBC." And Crystal announced that the network would schedule 45 hours or prime-time news programming next season - triple the amount aired this season.
Silverman said, "If NBC news needs prime time, it will get it," and pledged that prime-time news specials next season "will be averaging at least one a month," including "a mix of instant specials, topical programs and preplanned specials."
Both Silverman and Mulholland sought to assure affiliates that sexy TV programming will not increase next season, despite popular suspicions that Silverman's own "Charlie's Angels" formula of pretty girls in scanty togs would follow him to NBC. Of the new fall schedule, Mulholland declared, "It is competitive, it is non-violent, and it breaks no new ground in terms of sexual permissiveness - which the detractors of television assumed would happen." He said NBC's new shows "do not delve in violence or sexually explicit themes."
Silverman promised "programming that does not violate general standards of taste. We must avoid material that would alienate significant segments of the audience, and we must continue steadfastlyto make the difficult and delicate judgements that draw the line between the offensive and the acceptable, under changing public attitudes."
Silverman praised as "bright, energetic and creative" the heads of the various NBC divisions under him and let them make most of the announcements to the affiliates during a morning presentation and prog new season. It was there that station managers and program directors were told of the fall schedule changes Silverman already engineered since taking over. These include a new weekly one-hour "non-fiction drama" about real-life doctors and their patients, "Lifeline," which Silverman predicted "could indeed be the single show on any network this fall that changes the face of prime-time television."
Affiliates were introduced to the stars - including athlete Bruce Jenner and Jack Linkletter, inactive in television for the past eight years - of NBC's new daily live information hour "People to People," which premieres July 24.
They also heard Mulholland herald a first step in reducing "Clutter" on the air - the irriating excess of back to back commercials and network promotional annoucements - but also promise the local stations they will get a chance to add clutter of their own next fall with time for local news update at 10 each night.
Local news updates are really just a chance for stations to plug their own late newscasts.
Chancellor and David Brinkley both appeared at the morning session to moderate a satelite hook-up with correspondents from Rome, London and Washington beamed live onto a huge screen at the front of the hotel ball-room where the convention is taking place. Rome and London came in loud and clear but when it was time for Tom pettit from Washington, the audio failed.
Chancellor had introduced himself and Brinkley by joshing, "I'm Fred Chancellor, actually, and I'd like you to meet my partner Fred Brinkley" - a reference to the inexcapable presence of the mighty Silverman, who at that point was leaning against a pillar in the back of the darkened room and chain-smoking Salems.
Top programmer Paul L. Klein made an unmistakable reference to Silverman as well when he addressed the affiliates. The crusty, outspoken Klein had been critical of Silverman's programming while Silverman was at ABC, and there were industry rumors that the two wouldn't be able to work together under the same corporate roof. So when Klien greeted the affiliates with a simple, "Good morning, I'm glad to be here," and a kind of fateful sigh, there was considerable applause.
No one is worried yet about when Silverman might leave, but he may be the type who loses interest in the unreachable star once he has reached it. In the prepared text of his speech, Silverman was to conclude, "I took forward to working with you for a long time to come." Instead, he just said, "Look forward to working with you - and thank you."