T Dog’s Think Tank: Limo-for-a-Lame-O Jr. finally drives away

How does it feel to become the second Silverman in history to screw up a network – in fact, the SAME network ? Goodbye, Mr. “Party All The Time”. Don’t hit your head when you get in that limo…

Yours truly doesn’t know if the departure of Ben Silverman will immediately improve NBC’s fortunes. But it is a start.

Yes, Ben “Party All The Time” Silverman departed the peacock network in a surprising shake-up a few weeks ago, just two years as NBC’s Co-Chairman of the network’s Entertainment division and of Universal Media Studios to work for IAC, a new start-up headed by former Fox executive Barry Diller.

But the party was over for Silverman basically before it began. While he founded a production company responsible for several TV hits (The Office, Ugly Betty, The Biggest Loser), he was unable to translate that success over to his role to NBC.

And of course, there was his reputation as a partyman and socialite in Hollywood circles – and many say his constant partying hurt his job performance at NBC.

During his tenure, he presided over a prime-time schedule full of bad shows like Kath & Kim and Parks & Recreation – or anything else with an ampersand, remade shows the audience really didn’t embrace the first time around (American Gladiators, Knight Rider, and Bionic Woman), and remade reality shows nobody watched to begin with (I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here.) In fact, the revival of I’m A Celebrity in June represented the low point of Silverman’s tenure at NBC (actually, there have been several.) The program was a critical and ratings failure.

Silverman’s disastrous tenure at the network reminded many of another Silverman who jag-bagged NBC thirty years ago – Fred Silverman, who was unable to translate his success at CBS and ABC to the Peacock Network, who was mired in last place at the time. During his tenure as NBC network president between 1978 and 1981, greenlighted gems like Pink Lady and Jeff, Sheriff Lobo, Hello, Larry (that’s one name, but no laughs), Supertrain, and BJ and the Bear. Though Fred and Ben aren’t related, NBC might want to think twice before hiring anyone named Silverman again to run their network.

This era’s Silverman should have been parodied on Saturday Night Live, mocking him the same way the elder Silverman was: in 1980, comedian (and now U.S. Senator) Al Franken humorously criticized Fred Silverman during a Weekend Update segment, calling him “A Limo-For-A Lamo”. Franken felt Silverman didn’t deserve to be riding around in a limousine like a big shot given the way he drove the network into the ground.

But while Ben Silverman has bailed out of the NBC sinking ship, the captain is still on board.

Jeff “Doogie” Zucker, the CEO of NBC Universal – is still there. When he arrived, NBC was on top. But after stalwarts Friends and Fraiser departed, the network failed to develop hits. He screwed over programmer Kevin Reilly, who later went to Fox. And it got even worse with Silverman.

Zucker now wants to focus on the NBC’s cable properties, while the broadcast network is falling apart. Prime-time is a mess. Conan O’Brien’s inheritance of the Tonight Show throne has gotten the program’s median age younger, but ratings in other demos have declined. Some O&Os (notably WNBC in New York and WTVJ in Miami) have struggled. And finally, there is some apprehension over the network airing Jay Leno as a strip this fall at 9 p.m. Central.

And then there are the acres and acres of clueless executives at the network (there’s more of them?) who are about as professional as a can of tree stump.

NBC’s executive session at the recent Television Critics Association Press Tour was a disaster, with execs Angela Bromstad and Paul Telady looking like deer in headlights not knowing what to say or do, further cementing NBC’s reputation as the Nitwit Bumbling Company. They stood there for an half-hour, slinging out a whole bunch of bullshit:…[Heroes] is doing well creatively.”, said Bromstad at the press tour. Everyone run for cover, lightning is about to strike where those two are standing. These morons would be the first in line for the Limos for Lame-Os program.

And then, there’s this lovely gem at the press tour from Rescue Me showrunner Peter Tolan on NBC stripping Jay Leno every weeknight: “I feel they should take the American flag down in front of [NBC’s] building and just put up a white one, because they’ve clearly given up. They’ve clearly just said, ‘Look, we can’t develop. We can’t develop anything that’s going to stick. We have – clearly can’t find anything with any traction, so we quit.'”

But the news isn’t all bad – NBC Universal’s cable networks are experiencing terrific growth. WMAQ’s late news is growing in households. WRC in Washington D.C. remains the market’s top-rated station and news operation. Today continues to be a cash cow for the network.

And so its little wonder why Zucker promote Jeff Gaspin to co-run the entertainment division with Marc Graboff. Gaspin has a solid track record running the network’s cable division. The cable side has produced profitable hits such as Project Runway, Burn Notice, Monk, The Bad Girls Club, Battlestar Galactica, and others.

If this was only done in the first place. While yours truly can’t predict how Gaspin will do, he should be an improvement over Silverman – a person who clearly wasn’t mature enough to run a broadcast network (or a Dairy Queen)- even jointly.

But the negatives outweigh the positives. Keep in mind prime-time broadcast network television is still the bread-and-butter of this business. It still generates more revenue than cable networks does. Zucker’s management style is inept at best, and NBC is now in a hole it can’t seem to climb out of. We are waiting for the other shoe to drop, and if the new guy can’t turn it around and soon, Doogie will be gone too.

Promoting Gaspin is a first step in restoring NBC’s prime-time credibility and hopefully, he’ll create compelling programming instead of lame junk, which was the norm under the leadership of Limo for-a-Lame-O Jr.

If you still have doubts on Gaspin’s credentials, look at this way: at least Zucker didn’t replace Ben Silverman with Gary Coleman.

Hey, let’s go retro! This is was what the other Silverman – Fred, that is – was responsible for in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Enjoy!