Dan Snierson
March 22, 1996 AT 05:00 AM EST

I’m not really a high-powered network executive, but I play one on TV.

The speaker could be character actor Bob Balaban, who has now portrayed real-life NBC entertainment president Warren Littlefield on a sitcom, a talk show, and a made-for-TV movie.

Best known for his supporting role in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Balaban appeared as a fictitious — and Elaine-obsessed — version of Littlefield in a few episodes of Seinfeld four seasons ago, as a guest on Late Night With Conan O’Brien last May, and again in HBO’s Jay Leno/David Letterman talk-show-war movie, The Late Shift, which premiered February 24. Playing Littlefield ”confirmed what I already knew,” says Balaban, 50, who shadowed the 43-year-old Peacock exec in his Burbank offices as preparation for the Shift role. ”That Warren’s fun to work with and very stable.” Littlefield, meanwhile, can’t say enough about the repeat performances. ”I’ve known Bob for 20 years,” he says. ”I love what he does.”

What is it about Balaban that keeps bringing him back to the executive suite? ”The bottom line is he was right for the part,” says Nancy Foy, casting director for Shift. ”He looked right. He had the right qualities — power, responsibility, all of that.”

Though it has added a quirky entry to his resume, Balaban admits there’s a downside to assuming the identity of a network suit. ”People try to slip me pilots,” he sighs, ”and it gives me the urge to take meetings.”

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