That groan you heard coming out of your computer yesterday morning probably arose from the army of snarky bloggers who don’t have Ben Silverman to kick around anymore. When Mr. Silverman steps down as NBC Entertainment co-chairman in September to join Barry Diller at IAC, one of the blogosphere’s favorite whipping boys will no longer be all that important to the news cycle. Of course, after a few weeks, that won’t really matter all that much to the chattering class: They’ll find a new horse to flog! And that’s probably bad news for executives at ABC, CBS, and Fox.
We won’t say that Mr. Silverman’s tenure at NBC was anything other than a spotty misfire, but we do feel like he’s gotten somewhat of a raw deal. Since taking over in May of 2007, he’s had his fair share of disasters—must we remind you of Knight Rider, The Bionic Woman, Kath and Kim and Kings to name just four. But! He’s also responsible for keeping ratings-challenged shows like The Office, 30 Rock, Chuck and Friday Night Lights on the air much longer than people expected because they were of a certain quality; he expanded NBC’s web presence to the point where we think the Peacock has the best and most comprehensive website of all major networks; and he championed female talent like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Meanwhile, the pièce de résistance of his tenure hasn’t even been unveiled yet: The switch of Jay Leno into primetime. And, call us crazy, but isn’t it possible that the controversial Leno move will actually work for NBC, insofar as it could be profitable for years to come because of its cost effectiveness?
Still, quibbles about Mr. Silverman’s resume aside, the undisputable truth is that he isn’t the only network executive who has fallen on his face over the last few years. Take Stephen McPherson over at ABC. The graveyard of failed shows on the Alphabet Network is vast: Dirty Sexy Money, Pushing Daises, Eli Stone, Samantha Who?, Life on Mars, Cavemen. Even the warhorses have stumbled: Lost saw some of its lowest numbers ever during season five. And Mr. McPherson’s fall slate isn’t all that much more encouraging. Sure, early word on the V reboot has been strong, but would it surprise anyone if that ended up sucking like Knight Rider? Flash Forward seems cool and has an original-ish premise, but, then again, so did Kings. If we were Mr. McPherson, or his executives-in-arms Kevin Reilly (Fox) and Nina Tassler (CBS), we’d be buying ourselves some shields before the fall. Now that Mr. Silverman isn’t around to absorb all the slings and arrows, things could get ugly. After all, Nikki Finke has to write about somebody.