This certainly isn't the last thing you will see in print about Fred Silverman. Sorry.
But Silverman is a fascinating figure for more than just his legendary winning ways. At ABC's 25th anniversay party in Los Angeles last January, Freddie was moaning that "The life of a television executive is boring - boring with a capital B," and responding to speculation that he might replace Herbert S. Schlosser as president of NBC with an exasperated, "This is getting out of hand."
About a week later, however, he did - RCA Chairman Edgar Griffiths made the proverbial offer that could not be refused, in this case $1 million a year. And those affiliate conventions Freddie had said he was so sick of attending? This week he presided over his first as president and chief executive officer of NBC.
It was surely more than money that attracted Silverman and revitalized his executive instincts, however. The terribly encouraging thing about Freddie is that, whatever his other knacks, he is a man who loves television. In the broadcasting industry, it's hard to find executives who even watch it, much less love it.
If Silverman turned around the fortunes of ABC by programming mostly drek and hogwash, it could be because he thought that was the only way to effect change quickly. Now he is talking in a slightly repentant way about making NBC not so much the first as the best of the networks. He's had many chances to succeed, and made good on them - this is his chance to succeed with dignity, to prove he's not the low-brow or philistine that some, even at the other two networks where he already prospered, like to claim.
He must know that everybody's watching. When he gave his inaugural speech to the NBC affiliates convention here on Monday, a CBS camera crew from "60 Minutes" was filming him. The night before, at a party for the affiliates, Silverman had a big hearty handshake for CBS correspondent Mike Wallace, who is working on a report about network television operations that will be on the first new "60 Minutes" show of the fall.
Wallace plans to interview Silverman for the report. "Freddie has told me that if he talks to anybody on film, it will be us," Wallace said Sunday. This figures, since Silverman confided to colleagues at ABC late last year that "60 Minutes" is his very favorite television show.
An hour before he was to give his speech in the grand ballroom of the New York Hilton Hotel, Silverman surprised everybody in the press room, one flight below, by dropping in to say hello. It was a particular shock to NBC flacks, one of whom had begged of a reporter during the party Sunday night, "Please, please don't talk to him. Promise me you won't talk to him." Panicky flacks always assume that executives dread nothing more than meeting the press.
But Silverman said Monday he was tired of being considered "a phantom" - during his 4 1/2 months of forced exile while waiting for his ABC contracts to expire - and so he ambled in with his wife Cathy, pausing to take a peek at the new corporate-approved official Silverman publicity photo.
"It looks like I'm getting old," he moped when he saw the picture. He is a gray 40.
A visit to the press room on coronation day was a symbolic gesture not far removed from Jimmy Carter's stroll down Pennsylvania Avenue after being inaugurated - though conceivably less calculated for effect. Silverman seems to enjoy mixing it up with reporters, and he doesn't talk exclusively in the noncommital Sanskrit spoken by most TV executives.
Asked if Detectives hired by ABC really had followed him to make sure he didn't do business with NBC before his contract expired, Silverman said, "Oh, that's nonsense." Asked if he's ronsidered firing Gerald Ford, whom Schlosser hired at great expense - and whose first NBC special was a dismal and tedious flop, Silverman said, "We'll get to that later. I have other priorities first."
Those priorities included the fall schedule and making sure John Chancellor stayed on for another year as co-anchor of the nightly news, Silverman said. Of the schedule, he said, "Some of the shows look pretty good. Some are not so good and they're no longer on the schedule."
Silverman canceled plans to visit China during his interim "force retirement" because "I thought I'd wait and go under the auspices of NBC" and because 'Norman Lear and Lee Rich and a bunch of other producers were over there at the same time, and I didn't want to go 100,000 miles to run into them."
Questioned on the delicate issue of his weight, Silverman said he thought he had lost a little, but didn't look it. He modeled one of his new corporate drab suits, this one a banker's blue, and asked, "Now, does this look rumpled" It didn't. For years Silverman was irked by a reputation for wearing "rumpled suits" that seemed to symbolize his image as a too-common man - Regarded as a "baggy pants" type by the stuffed shirts at CBS even when he was the prevailing whiz kid at that network. This may contain a clue to the new bid for respectability he signaled in his speech to the NBC affiliates.
The fact that he is short, stocky and utterly unimposing physically is a strange part of Silverman's muted charm. "Usually we've had 42-longs running the network," one NBC executive says. "This is our first 46-regular."
A squadron of eager reporters missed ambushing Freddie on his first day at NBC partly because he came in a different entrance than they expected and partly because, says one NBC staffer, "He wasn't carrying a briefcase or anything, and he was all alone - I hardly recognized him myself." After finishing work on his inaugural speech Sunday afternoon Silverman turned to his colleagues at the top and said, "Okay, now could you guys go for an eggroll?" It seems to be Chinese food rather than the lust for power that keeps him going.
There is also his zest for competition and, crucially, his faith in the medium. "Freddie is in show business," says Lorne Michaels, producer of "NBC's Saturday Night Live," and I think that's encouraging. There are a lot of TV executives who aren't." It helps that when Silverman met Michaels Sunday nights, the new prez told the producer, "Don't worry, I don't want you to change a thing" on the late-night hit show.
Lofty thoughts on the nature of television in Silverman's opening speech seemed a bit more than the usual token talk of "television's role in our society." He acknowledged that "There is a basis for criticism of the television medium," a contrast to his verbal fisticuffs directed at "a handful" of "elitis" TV critics while at ABC. He also said, "This is a diversified and sectional country, but the nearest thing to a national community is the television audience.
"Through television, that audience shares a common experience, in entertainment and sports, as well as information programs. We provide a very precious resource to the public and to the nation. We must not squander that resource, and we must earn the trust of public. Television can enhance the role of the individual in our free society - not smother it."
At a humdrum stage show put on for the affiliates Monday night, a character called "Bob Silverman" emerged as the hero of a sketch and was praised in song with, "Silverman, Silverman, you saved the day . . . Silverman, a super man in every way . . ."
At an affiliates meeting not open to the press yesterday, there was talk of "a new feeling of excitement" among the network's stations and a "positive attitude we haven't felt in years." Of course they're hoping for economic nirvana. Silverman has already proved he can foster that.
It now remains for him to prove something more. The affiliates care about money. Silverman cares about television, and probably about what history will say he did with it and too it. One recalls Charles Foster Kane's declaration that "I think it would be fun to run a newspaper" - and easily imagines Silver saying to himself, "I think it would be fun to run a network" - and Kane's later confession that "I might have been a really great man."
Silverman still might prove to be a really great man, and there is the exhilarating chance he will eventually do something very great with television. He has more than NBC's fortunes to salvage now - he has television's honor. If he succeeds in the grander sense, we may all be in his debt for years to come.