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September 2007

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Tuesday, September 4, 2007
Fall TV Preview: Ben Silverman

This is part of our Fall TV Preview in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.

The brains behind The Office and Ugly Betty is now running a network. And, oh yeah, he's single and looking for a nice Jewish girl.

He was a successful talent agent-turned-producer who developed recent hits like The Office, Ugly Betty and The Tudors for his own company, Reveille Entertainment but last May he left it behind to run the fourth-place TV network. Why would a 37-year-old wunderkind with a great gig want to take the helm of NBC?

"I've had enough creative fulfillment in the past 16 years," says Ben Silverman. "I grew up watching television and this was what I always wanted to do. I believe that the place I would have the greatest opportunity to make decisions about television shows and enable creativity and have opportunities to find ideas and bring them to the market quickest was going to be at a network. The combination of opportunities was something I couldn't pass on. I'm very happy to be doing my dream job."

The Co-Chairman (with Marc Graboff) of NBC Entertainment and NBC Universal Television insists there's no conflict of interest in now having to program against rival networks' shows he put on the air. "It's not an issue for me at all," he says, pointing out that last season, "The Office was up against Ugly Betty and I produced both and I distributed Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? I had three shows up against each other. I am 1000% focused on making NBC successful and continuing to build on its success."

He does admit, however, that "there's intense pressure, big-time pressure, but I'm excited, confident and I'm not scared of facing it head on." He's already made news by hiring embattled, notoriously fired Grey's Anatomy star Isaiah Washington as a Bionic Woman cast member and hopes to make Rosie O'Donnell part of the celebrity version of The Apprentice, to be played for charity.

In the same way he sought out the Colombian telenovela that became Ugly Betty at Reveille, Silverman is mining international sources for the NBC slate, including Britain's Kath & Kim, Spain's Sin Tetas, and Israel's illusionist competition The Successor, which as Phenomenon will star Uri Geller and Criss Angel here. He also tapped veteran producer Norman Lear to develop a one-hour comedy about the battle of the sexes.

Silverman, born in Pittsfield, MA and a cum laude graduate of Tufts University, grew up an avid TV viewer of such shows as Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere, Thirtysomething, Cheers, and The Cosby Show. His mother, Mary, was a theater-turned-cable television producer for Lifetime, USA and Court TV and his father, Stanley, composed avant-garde chamber music.

His Reform Jewish upbringing included Hebrew day school and a bar mitzvah that included theater luminaries like Joe Papp and gifts like an autograph from the Boston Red Sox. "Unfortunately, my voice broke so it wasn't my most shining performance. I wish I had a rehearsal day on that," Silverman reflects.

Proud to be Jewish, the single exec is looking for a nice Jewish girl. "Sarah Silverman is going out with Jimmy Kimmel so that's out. Too bad, we wouldn't even have to change the stationery," he laughs. "There's an Allison Silverman who's the showrunner of The Daily Show. I was thinking maybe I should call her for a date." Athletic by nature, "I like an active lifestyle so I want an active Jewish girl with a sense of humor," he adds.

Silverman is also passionate about global and environmental causes and toward that end will program a Green is Universal week of programming across NBC and its cable networks Nov. 4-11. "It's a massive issue that needs light shed on it," says the eager exec. He's currently helping to reduce his carbon footprint by living in a two-bedroom apartment, but if he does decide to move up to something more lavish, he assures, "I'll try to make sure it's carbon-neutral."

-- Text by Gerri Miller / Photo by Mitchell Haaseth.

This is part of our Fall TV Preview in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.
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