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October 8, 2015

Hasn't NBC learned? Never trust a guy with the last name of Silverman

by Richard Keller, posted Dec 20th 2008 1:02PM

Ben Silverman and Fred Silverman -- not releated, but cut from the same programming clothThe species known as the network executive (networkitus executivus) is unique in the world of nature. Seemingly human in stature and characterization, the network executive is unusual in the sense that its brain is seated firmly in its tushie region. As this area of the executive's body gets the least amount of blood during an average day this leads to some very strange programming decisions. Thus, the reason that viewers were entertained by Cop Rock, Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire? and that sitcom that starred Emeril.

This lack of blood also causes memory loss. At least, that's what I believe it does because it's the only way I could think of that NBC would hire Ben Silverman to co-chair the entertainment division. Or, rather, hire another man named Silverman to help program their primetime schedule. For, if their memories were working properly, they would have realized that another man with the last name of Silverman came to the NBC 30 years ago and proceeded to muck everything up as well.

It was 1978 and things were not going well for NBC. The network was in a slump that kept them in a permanent third place in the ratings week after week. Many of their programs were not making it past the first season, they were spending inordinate amounts of money on made-for-tv movies and specials, and their only bright spots were in the late night hours thanks to The Tonight Show and the fairly new Saturday Night Live. They needed to do something to turn their fortunes around, and do it fast. Enter one Fred Silverman.

Fred was a programming genius...for the other networks, that is. Beginning his career at CBS in the early 1960s, Silverman became the head of network programming in 1970 and helped usher in another golden age of primetime with shows like All in the Family, Mary Tyler Moore, M*A*S*H, The Waltons, The Bob Newhart Show and The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour. In 1974, Silverman was lured over to ABC, where he became president of the network. Focusing on a younger viewing audience than CBS, Silverman greenlit shows such as Eight is Enough, The Bionic Woman, Three's Company, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Charlie's Angels and the award-winning miniseries Roots.

Though there were many success, Silverman's golden touch began to fade while at ABC. Several shows spun-off from successful past-and-present series of the time just didn't pan out despite the fact they featured attractive young men and women; a hallmark of Silverman's style at ABC. Both Blansky's Beauties (Happy Days spin-off) and Tabitha (Bewitched spin-off) came and went with barely a whimper while Brady Bunch Hour (Brady Bunch spin-off) still remains one of the most embarrassing series ever to air on TV.

Still, those small failures didn't deter NBC from enticing Silverman from his successful post to become President and CEO of the network. The executives, obviously spending a lot of time sitting on their brains, believed that, after 15 years of successful programming decisions, Fred would continue his trend in a nonplussed fashion. Unfortunately, due to some poor programming decisions and bad luck, this was not to be the case.

No matter what he did, Silverman could not find the magic touch that propelled CBS and ABC to ratings success. While there were some exceptions -- Diff'rent Stroke, The Facts of Life, Real People and the introduction of David Letterman -- most of the shows Fred greenlighted were very much the ridicule of the industry. Shows like Supertrain, Hello, Larry and Pink Lady and Jeff were such losers that even the network's affiliates began to switch associations. The ironic part was that these shows were all doing poorly against programs on CBS and ABC that had previously been greenlighted by Silverman.

One of the last straws for Silverman came in 1980. NBC spent millions of dollars and planned to air 150 hours of the Summer Olympics that year; an event that Fred was hoping to use to promote the fall season and turn the network around. Unfortunately, President Jimmy Carter decided to pull the American team out of the Olympics. The result was a disaster for both Silverman and the network. A year later, Fred resigned as president to be replaced by Grant Tinker. Along with chief of programming Brandon Tartikoff, NBC regain most of the luster it lost during Silverman's reign. Fred, meanwhile, redeemed himself somewhat by executive producing Matlock, Jake and the Fatman, In the Heat of the Night and Diagnosis Murder.

Now, a mere three decades later, another Silverman is at the helm of NBC who, along with Jeff Zucker, is buffing the polish off of the NBC jewel. Hopefully, when this period ends and a saner team of executives comes in, some of the luster that the network has lost will be recovered. However, as the network executives are practically suffocating their brains these days, that day probably won't be any time soon, if at all.

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As I recall WHO WANT TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE drew an enormous audience and was hot 'water-cooler' talk for quite a while.

It may have been a moral train wreck, but a lot of folks strained their necks to watch as they drove by.

It would be a miracle for the bone heads at NBC to develop a one hit wonder like it.

December 20 2008 at 10:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Scott Schrantz

Don't forget Jonathan Silverman, star of 1995's "The Single Guy". One of the many shows that tried to catch on in the post-Friends 8:30 revolving door slot. And Sarah Silverman on Saturday Night Live. How many other Silvermans were on NBC?

December 20 2008 at 6:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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