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Ben Silverman Leaves NBC to Start New Company With Barry Diller's IAC

Jeff Gaspin, who has presided over NBC Universal's cable properties during a time of unprecedented growth, will expand his oversight to the broadcast network and Universal Media Studios.

It is the latest shakeup for the fourth-place network, which includes the departure of Ben Silverman. The controversial co-chair of the entertainment division was brought in by NBCU President and CEO Jeff Zucker as a rainmaker.

NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker
told B&C the timing was right for both NBC U and Silverman to part ways.

“Ben came to me with this
opportunity that was incredibly exciting for him,” he said.“That made sense for him now, and on the
other hand I’ve been thinking a lot about how we should best be organized at NBC
Universal. I thought it made most sense to put everything under one roof, much
the way Disney is organized, and that’s why Jeff Gaspin made sense [for this

Silverman will leave to start a new company with Barry Diller's IAC, effectively returning to his entrepreneurial roots to launch a company like his former shop, Reveille, which he sold when he joined NBCU. The company's television assets are being restructured under Gaspin, who has been named chairman, NBC Universal Television Entertainment, effective immediately.

Gaspin acknowledged the challenges, for broadcasting in general and NBC in particular, during an interview on July 27. "You've got a secular issue for broadcasting; it's definitely a challenged business," he said. "NBC certainly is challenged, being in fourth place, and we need to make progress. But there is still a tremendous amount of value in every one of the broadcasters, and I have to help the NBC team unlock that value."

Although Gaspin will continue to manage NBCU's cable portfolio, including USA, SyFy, Bravo, Oxygen, Universal HD, Sleuth and Chiller, as well as the company's interests in the A&E and History networks, he said his immediate priority is the broadcast network.

"I have a big portfolio of assets and I can't spend all my time on any one," he said. "But I'll certainly immerse myself in NBC for the next several months. We have a new season to launch. And we have Jay Leno to launch."

Gaspin called the decision to strip Leno at 10 p.m. five nights a week "an exciting move," adding that Leno will offer an alternative in a time slot that has been dominated by "procedural dramas or very dense dramas" on the broadcast networks.

"I think it's going to be good for all three networks," he said. "Look, ABC and CBS will get a little bit [more] of the viewers who want that drama at 10 o'clock. But now the viewer has a [comedy] alternative, but comedy with a very familiar star in Jay Leno. I think that's going to work for us. I think it's going to be good for broadcast television."

Leadership will remain status quo at the cable networks, where a strong group of executives including Bonnie Hammer (President, NBC Universal Cable Entertainment and Universal Cable Productions) and Lauren Zalaznick (NBC Universal Women and Lifestyle Entertainment Networks), have helped to buoy the company through the downturn at the broadcast network.

"There's no question we have a lot of Type A personalities and they are fantastic executives, every one of them," Gaspin said. "And the good thing about talented people and ambitious people is they have no problem with other talented and ambitious people because they're completely confident in themselves. So I don't see much changing there."

Gaspin has had a long career at NBC. He first joined the network in 1988 as a VP of programming and development, where he helped to start the newsmagazine Dateline and expanded morning program Today to seven days a week. He left NBC to head up VH1, where he helped to put the music channel on the map with the Behind the Music franchise.

He returned to NBC in 2001 to head up alternative series, longform, specials and program strategy. He was named president of Bravo in 2002, guiding the channel's operation, programming, and marketing when it was acquired by NBC. He took the helm of the network's cable division in 2007.

"It would be a waste of a transition if I didn't use what I've learned in the last 25 years to help benefit [NBCU's broadcasting and cable networks]," he said. "I think it's the main reason [Zucker] wanted to consolidate all of television under one executive."

Hammer, Zalaznick, Barry Wallach (President, NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution), Bridget Baker (President, TV Networks Distribution, NBC Universal), Don Browne (President, Telemundo) and J.B Perrette (President, Digital and Affiliate Distribution and Content Distribution Strategy) will continue to report to Gaspin.

Gaspin also oversees the company's television distribution, including linear, digital and wireless, off-net syndication and first-run efforts, as well as the Telemundo broadcast network and its owned stations.
Marc Graboff, who has also been co-chairman along with Silverman, will continue as chairman, NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios, reporting to Gaspin.

The new structure will consolidate all of the company's television entertainment assets--both broadcast and cable-- English and Spanish--under one roof to allow the company to better leverage its content across all of those properties, according to the announcement.
The announcement was made early Monday morning before the stock markets opened.