Monday, May 28, 2007

Breaking News – Kevin Reilly Leaving NBC

Variety reports that NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly (on the right in this photo with NBC-Universal CEO Jeff Zucker) will be leaving his post with an official announcement expected no later than Tuesday. The decision to fire Reilly was apparently made on Friday but the parties had to negotiate a settlement of Reilly's contract which was renewed in March of this year. Reilly's replacement is expected to be producer Ben Silverman, although he is not expected to hold the same title as Reilly had and may in fact be partnered Marc Graboff who is expected to run the business side of Reilly's job. According to Variety Silverman, who created The Office and The Biggest Loser for NBC as well as Ugly Betty for ABC "is expected to take on a role giving him oversight of the bigger picture at the network. He'll also play a key role in attracting talent to the network." The status of NBC development chief Katherine Pope, who was generally considered to be Reilly's eventual successor, is also unclear. Variety suggests that "there's a very real chance she could end up leaving NBC U, people with knowledge of the matter said."

Apparently the situation at NBC came to a head when Reilly learned that Graboff – who is Vice President in charge of NBC's West Coast operations and above Reilly in the network hierarchy – and NBC-Universal President and CEO Jeff Zucker were interviewing candidates for a job that according to two people interviewed by the LA Times "would usurp much of Reilly's authority." This was followed last Friday by an anonymous e-mail sent to Reilly stating that Silverman would be replacing Reilly. According to the Times this led Reilly to ask NBC to release him from his contract, and Zucker was willing to do so regardless of the costs which are likely to be considerable.

Kevin Reilly was initially in the Programming & Development department at NBC between 1988 and 1994 where he helped shepherd projects like ER and Homicide: Life On The Streets onto the line-up. He left the network to serve as president of the Brillstein-Grey production company which developed shows including The Sopranos, Just Shoot Me NewsRadio and The Steve Harvey Show during his tenure. He left there to become president of the FX cable station where he was responsible for the development of such scripted productions as The Shield and Nip Tuck. He returned to NBC in 2003 as president of primetime development until Zucker ascended to his current position in December 2005.

His time as head of NBC's Entertainment Division was marked by the embarrassing situation surrounding the 2006-07 upfronts, when NBC announced its line-up only to totally reorganise the schedule less than a week later after ABC announced its line-up. That line-up was an embarrassment for Reilly with high profile ratings failures including Kidnapped and Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip. Reilly is credited with supporting and nurturing a number of shows including My Name Is Earl and The Office, and in the 2006-07 season had a singular bright spot with Heroes. His support of quality programming led to a full season renewal for Studio 60, and second season renewals for Friday Night Lights and 30 Rock even though neither series posted stellar ratings. The 2007-08 schedule seems to also at least attempt to live up to Reilly's philosophy (borrowed from Grant Tinker) of making quality the first priority with ratings success following naturally.

Reilly's departure from NBC – with Pope presumably soon to follow given her feelings about Zucker and the NBC old boys (reported by Deadline Hollywood Daily) – is yet another example of Jeff Zucker's habit of succeeding by failing. After all it wasn't Reilly who kept Matt Leblanc's sitcom (feel free to insert an 'H' if you want) Joey on the air for two season or some of the other moves that Zucker made in his process of failing up the corporate ladder. I'm not saying that Kevin Reilly was a great President of the Entertainment Division – the reshuffling of the 2006-07 season and the subsequent debacle would seem to disprove that – but I do think that he deserved better than the "behind his back" machinations that led to his resignation, particularly as leadership at the network seemed happy enough with him not quite three months ago to give him a multi-year contract extension.

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