Tuesday, 18 November 2008


The interview of Ben Silverman by interviewer and broadcast journalist Charlie Rose on his show (http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/9554) has been the occasion for Nikki Finke to write a most striking and moving piece on her blog, Deadline Hollywood Daily (http://www.deadlinehollywooddaily.com/transcript-of-ben-silverman-on-charlie-rose/).


Ben Silverman is co-chairman of NBC Entertainment and NBC Universal Television Studio since 2007 and founder of Reveille Productions, a company which brought successfully to the United States foreign formats, like UK's The Office, as remakes.

But it seems that NBC's Prime Time needs far more than a "reveille" ("wake up" in French), if not a résurrection, after the cancellation of the hyped My Own Worst Enemy (with Christian Slater) and of Lipstick Jungle, and the poor reception of Kath & Kim - the remake of an Australian hit sitcom. Silverman's praise of the advantages of a co-production like Crusoe achieved to raise skepticism (http://dknowsall.blogspot.com/2008/09/hollywood-babble-on-on-166-nbc-world.html) after the lack of enthusiasm caused by the network's fall schedule.

My Own Worst Enemy is a waste of the talent of Christian Slater, who deserve an equivalent of what 24 has been for Kiefer Sutherland. Watching the promos left the strange impression of a "Jekyll meets Jason Bourne" (http://tattard2.blogspot.com/2008/09/things-to-watch-in-hollywoodland-when_1016.html) - everybody xerox Bourne these days... (http://tattard2.blogspot.com/2008/11/fistful-of-solace.html) and from this side of the ocean it seems that US Network Television buys its weekly fiction only on pitches, whereas UK television builds shows from and around scripts (http://dknowsall.blogspot.com/2008/11/boob-tube-how-long-should-series-last.html).

In one case you got Spooks, the best spy show of the History of Television (with Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy), and in the other you got a long string of grotesque unsold pilots (http://www.leegoldberg.com/non_unsold.html), Fortune Hunter, Secret Agent Man and My Own Worst Enemy. Even if Fortune Hunter was very pleasant to watch, thanks to the late Mark Frankel and shades of Search (1972-1973, a wrongfully forgotten spy/adventure show). Only distance can save this type of series, in its golden age NBC was the network of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. but this was 43 years ago.... if Mr Solo should go to Paris today, at least let's hope production would avoid ridicule.


This is not the first time Nikki aims her flamethrower at Ben Silverman (http://www.deadlinehollywooddaily.com/major-nbc-shakeup-ahead-network-wants-to-ax-teri-weinberg-hopes-ben-silverman-quits/) but her reaction to the evocation, in Silverman's interview, of the name of Brandon Tartikoff - the legendary executive who brought NBC to the highest summits with some of the most popular shows of the eighties (Hill Street Blues, Miami Vice, L.A. Law and many others) - is rather moving for those for whom such a name really means something: « Also, I do wish Silverman would stop trying to channel Brandon Tartikoff's ghost [...] Yes, Silverman worked for Tartikoff once upon a time. But Ben, I knew Brandon. Tartikoff was a friend of mine. And, you sir, are no Brandon Tartikoff ».

After the cancellation of My Own Worst Enemy and Lipstick Jungle the blame apparently fell on Katherine Pope, Universal Media Studio President (http://www.nypost.com/seven/11142008/gossip/pagesix/black_widow_effect_at_nbc_138573.htm), behind the development of the two shows as well as of the terrible Bionic Woman revival and the overestimated Heroes (http://www.thefutoncritic.com/news.aspx?id=20070604nuts01).

According to New York Post, Ben Silverman has been able to cut costs at the network and seems to be satisfying his bosses, particularly NBC chairman Jeff Zucker. And TV analysts say ratings have become less important as the viewing audience has scattered to proliferating cable channels. Silverman told The Post last summer: « We're managing for margins and not for ratings ».


The Entertainment industry has deeply changed since the era of the great Brandon Tartikoff, Networks must compete against multitude of offers from cable, satellite and the internet. To be fair NBC is not the only network to have bad seasons since a couple of years. And the true problem for the "Big Four" (CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox) is the relevance of continuing to order and show weekly series in an environment where viewers are accustomed to US quality fiction from Showtime, AMC or HBO or to la crème of British television through BBC America or The Sci-Fi Channel.

The best illustration of this dilemma is NBC's new Knight Rider, a show run by a man, Gary Scott Thompson, who has a true sense of what popular light entertainment should be on Network television (remember Las Vegas). The series is a target on the internet since its start, with reproaches going from the comparison to the original, or the casting, to the quality of scripts and the sfx. Which is truly amazing when you remember that the original, launched under the reign of Brandon Tartikoff, was produced by Glen A. Larson (no offence intended, his shows are magnificent childhood memories) and was basically My mother the car done straight with the production values of the Universal Television of the time and stunts.

Now the new version is revamped due to yo-yo ratings and three cast members are out, amongst them Bruce Davison, one of the finest American contemporary actors. Really a pity, 25 years ago (when the "Big Three" Networks were unrivaled) this show would have been the toast of the moment, but viewers seem to wish that the networks show them series like Dexter or Californication or perhaps no series at all - America's got talent or Deal or no Deal are a great fun to watch.

To adapt foreign formats will certainly not be the solution to the troubles of this Fall's schedules or of the whole season. See ABC's Life on Mars US... What's the point of adapting series American viewers already know through BBC America or the internet? Do programing execs believe Brit shows are still ghettoized on PBS or relegated to cheapo syndication deals? What will NBC offer us in the future? A US remake of Hotel Babylon in Las Vegas? Seriously...

The real challenge for Ben Silverman and his colleagues or counterparts is to answer to this sole question: what kind of Entertainment for the networks in the 21th century?

Update: Lee Goldberg on Tim Kring and Heroes (http://leegoldberg.typepad.com/a_writers_life/2008/11/how-not-to-get-people-to-watch-your-show.html).

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