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Reilly brought My Name Is Earl and The Office to NBC.

Analysis: Is Reilly a Scapegoat for NBC's Failures?



John Consoli

MAY 28, 2007 -

NBC is expected to officially confirm on Tuesday rumors that have been brewing since Friday that Kevin Reilly, the network's entertainment president since 2004, is being fired and replaced by producer Ben Silverman, a 36-year-old former William Morris Agency exec who in 2002 founded Reveille studio and is currently its CEO.

Not only will Silverman replace Reilly, who had just signed a new three-year contract in March, and who will be given a financial package to leave, but Silverman will also be given more responsibility and a heftier title than Reilly had. And, as part of the restructuring, Mark Graboff, NBCU West Coast president, who also oversees all business, financial, operational and administrative matters, for NBC and all of its sister entities, is also expected work more closely with Silverman.

NBC is mirred in fourth place in the ratings among the broadcast networks, a position it had held for the past two seasons, but the questions that need asking are: Is Kevin Reilly the reason for NBC's fall from first place? Was Reilly, during his tenure, given the authority and autonomy to develop the depth and breadth of programming he felt could turn the network around, or was he stifled by other executives above him within the company who insisted on input and final say? And, if the system doesn't change within, can anyone be brought in that will be able to turn things around? And finally, if Silverman is given more authority and automony going forward, why wasn't that given to Reilly sooner, or to Reilly now, before letting him go?

So with all the fanfare and promise expected with NBC's announcement, these questions will continue to fester.

In Reilly's defense, he did bring some solid shows to the network--My Name is Earl, The Office, Deal or No Deal and Heroes. In fact, insiders at 20th Century Fox Television say while virtually every top NBC executive was opposed to putting Earl on the schedule three years ago, it was Reilly who stuck to his guns and put the show on the air. And the show did take off in its first season. Ironically, The Office is a show produced by Silverman's Reveille studio, but Reilly also had to battle to get it on the schedule against top level opposition. While The Office has not been a ratings mega-hit, it has brought critical acclaim to the network and fills a solid hole in its Thursday night comedy block.

When he oversaw entertainment development at FX cable network, Reilly developed a reputation for bringing out of the box hit dramas, like The Shield and Nip/Tuck. But it never seemed like he was given a chance to bring similar type programming to NBC.

And according to sources familiar with the NBC development process, Reilly was told he could do only half the number of pilots of the other Big Four broadcast networks for the 2007-08 season. While Reilly tried to put on a positive face during the upfront by saying that the goal was not to put too many new shows on the schedule that would be lost in the fall premiere shuffle, it was clear that NBC does not have enough new shows on its schedule to seriously give it a shot at turning its viewer declines around.

Sources familiar with the situation said Reillly was being stifled as NBCU tried to save money to help pay for the huge TV rights fee it had incurred by acquiring Sunday Night Football.

Reilly inherited a programming schedule in 2004 that was falling apart before he got there, particularly with Friends going off the air. He had an insurmountable task, and seemingly, was not given autonomy to at least let him do his own thing in order to try to turn things around.

It is a situation that is diametrically opposite of the one that his college fraternity brother and friend Steve McPherson has faced in his role as ABC Entertainment president. McPherson also came into a situation where the ABC schedule was on the downswing. But for whatever reason, maybe because of McPherson's more aggressive personality, or that the Disney Co. brass realized that too many cooks spoil the broth, they gave McPherson the authority and automony that has allowed him to not only oversee program development, but also the marketing department which is charged with promoting that programming to viewers.

NBC has its internal NBC Agency which is charged with marketing the network's programming, and the agency does not report to Reilly. At ABC, the marketing execs report to McPherson.

"Bob Iger trusts and supports me and lets me run the show," McPherson told Mediaweek.

"Everything reports to me, including marketing. I make every call good or bad, and that's the only way you can succeed at these jobs. How can you turn around an entertainment division and not be allowed to sell it. At ABC it's my leadership and my vision. If I succeed or fail, it's all on me. That doesn't seem to be the case at NBC."

Silverman spent six years at William Morris before becoming the founding CEO at Reveille. In addition to The Office and The Biggest Loser, Reveille also produces Ugly Betty, the moderate hit drama on ABC that McPherson put on the air this season.

But some in the industry are wondering whether he has the creative background necessary to develop a broad range of shows from scratch. Both The Office and Ugly Betty were successful shows in other countries--the U.K. and Mexico, respectively--concepts that were just adapted to American audiences.

Time will tell. But one thing seems certain. Whoever becomes head of programming at NBC will need to be given the authority and autonomy to program the network with their own vision. If not, it is going to be more of the same. I'm sure that Brandon Tartikoff did not have a committee telling him how to program NBC in its heyday.

Kevin Reilly seems to have been made the scapegoat here. But that has happened before. Remember how Fox axed Doug Herzog after just one season?

Welcome to the world of television.


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