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NBC: Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

Fnl_lAs a professional TV pundit, I guess I’m supposed to join my colleagues in wringing my hands over the turmoil in NBC’s executive suite and to profess shock that entertainment chief Kevin Reilly was fired so soon after presenting his handcrafted fall schedule. Yet I think would have been a shock if the network hadn’t fired him, given NBC’s basement-dwelling ratings over the last couple of years.

Similarly, I can’t get agitated over his replacement by hotshot producer Ben Silverman; in terms of taste, they’re really not that different. Reilly is known for greenlighting quality scripted shows (such as The Office, Heroes, and My Name Is Earl) and lowbrow unscripted fare (Deal or No Deal), while Silverman’s company Reveille is known for producing quality scripted shows (The Office, Ugly Betty, The Tudors) and lowbrow unscripted fare (The Biggest Loser). Plus, things won’t be changing much under Silverman, at least not at first; before his ouster, Reilly committed NBC to second seasons of such struggling shows as 30 Rock and Friday Night Lights (shown), so Silverman won’t have a lot of room to make radical shifts in direction.

There are still a couple of questions. The first, raised by blogger Nikki Finke(who’s been all over this story), is whether Silverman can program NBCwhile still keeping one foot in Reveille. But Silverman will have toshare his NBC office with a co-chair, Marc Graboff, whose background isin finance, so maybe that will make multi-tasking (and avoidingconflicts of interest) a little easier.

The second has to do with strategy. While critics (and cults of fans) are happy that 30 Rock and Friday Night Lightsare coming back, the shareholders can’t be too happy about these shows’low ratings. Then again, maybe it doesn’t matter how many eyeballs arewatching these shows, as long as they’re the most desirable eyeballs.NBC seems to be betting that its quality shows can draw more upscaleviewers, and that it can charge advertisers a premium to reach them.(Call this the Jordan McDeere strategy, since it seems to have beencoined by the network programming chief played by Amanda Peet on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.)Still, this is a risky tactic, and Silverman will surely be underpressure to market Reilly’s foundlings more effectively or else dumpthem at the first available opportunity.

Can Silverman lift NBC out of the Nielsen cellar? Can the networkprosper if he doesn’t? Will your favorite NBC shows survive? Stay tuned.

Originally posted May 31 2007 — 12:25 AM EDT

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