Silverman on the Benefits of Being Ahead of Schedule

And Why You'll See an Updated Version of 'Knight Rider' but Not 'B.J. and the Bear'

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NEW YORK ( -- The hard sell of the upfront marketplace is typically the realm of the ad-sales executives, who guide the nitty-gritty of the negotiations behind the scenes after the entertainment presidents do the soft sell by putting on a show. This year, however, one of NBC's entertainment executives is already out doing deals.
Ben Silverman, co-chairman, NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios
Ben Silverman, co-chairman, NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios Credit: Virginia Sherwood

Ben Silverman, co-chairman, NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios, was already known for his knack for building entertainment concepts and weaving marketers into them when he ran his production shop, Reveille. Now he's doing the same for the Peacock Network. Mr. Silverman discusses results he's seen from NBC's decision to unveil its 2008-09 programming schedule ahead of rivals and explains why shows from the past can make a splash in the present.

Advertising Age: What results have you seen so far from the network's decision to hold its "in front"?

Ben Silverman: We've gotten some deals already in place, and we've also locked in some partnerships across the shows tied into some product launches for our advertising clients, and we've been able to literally use this week coming up ... to do follow-ups from that, even to lock in creative thinking, what the partnerships could look like, and build off of it. While some of our competitors are presenting their schedules, we are actually going to lock into some partnerships and into exactly what those partnerships will look like.

Ad Age: What concerns do you have about a potential actors strike and what preparations are you making in the event one takes place?

Mr. Silverman: I didn't have concerns earlier, but now I do, and I hope there isn't one, but based on that concern, we've accelerated our production schedule on a couple of series where we could and where it wouldn't hurt us at all creatively, and we've also pushed back one production start due to a potential strike so that we can ensure that we wouldn't be interrupted. And then we've also built a couple of business models, as we had during the writers strike, to have some programming that maybe wouldn't have been available to us otherwise. Luckily, we built a couple of productions that aren't dependent on the American guilds, like "Robinson Crusoe," "Fear Itself" and "Merlin."

Ad Age: How involved are you in digital extensions of NBC's various programs and what have you done to encourage producers to build them?

Mr. Silverman: Luckily, that was resolved in the strike. We are doing extensions for almost all our shows. We are building original content but [content] that is derivative of the brand, and we are also building a ton of different applications and extensions that are wholly distinct from those show brands but are connected to them. ... With "Lipstick Jungle," we are further broadening out and building the magazine that's in the center of the show as a real-life digital magazine that we have actually gotten interest from a number of publishers in making a real magazine. With "Kath and Kim," we're talking about doing some innovative stuff around the "Wine Time" section of the show and having additional footage and scenes playing out online. We've built out ['The Office's'] Dunder-Mifflin social networking that is continuing to be robust and really powerful.

Ad Age: What is the right balance of reality to scripted fare in your view?

Mr. Silverman: We do more alternative programming in the summer, and we do the majority of scripted programming in the fall and winter, as you see on our schedule. ... But we really do believe in a balance. We love both genres ... and think the audience is not tuning in based on genre. I think a fan of "The Biggest Loser" is also a fan of "Lipstick Jungle," and a fan of "The Office" is also a fan of "Deal or No Deal." People are tuning in to be entertained. ... The scripted programming has more ... revenue globally, and so it's worth our investment, but the initial investment is a lot more than the initial investment in alternative, but the alternative tends to rate higher immediately but not have as much off-network value.

Ad Age: In recent months, NBC has displayed a fondness for bringing back old shows in new forms: "Knight Rider," "American Gladiators." What criteria do you use for deciding whether an old show has modern legs?

Mr. Silverman: It's all about what you're going after. The UFC [Ultimate Fighting Championship] kind of enabled us to reinvent "Gladiators." We could kind of pump it up and make it a different kind of show than it was in the beginning but still have all of the nostalgia of the title. Just as the 30-somethings drove the nostalgia for the '60s 20 years ago and then the 30-somethings from the next generation drove the nostalgia for the '70s, now it's the 30-somethings who came of age during the '80s. ... The shows between 1980 and 1990 are the shows of the generation. That's part of it, tapping into the nostalgia but then stepping it up to bring in a new generation. It's also the fathers and mothers who watched "Knight Rider" as teenagers bringing the kids to it with them.

Ad Age: And what shows would you not revive?

Mr. Silverman: "B.J. and the Bear"? ... But the fact that you and I know what they are immediately shows there's just value to what you experience and relate to as you are growing up ... that echoes as memory tied to emotion when you're an adult.
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