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Ben Silverman Out, Gaspin In at NBCU Is News Only If You Weren't Paying Attention

You shouldn't have exactly fallen out of your chair this morning upon the news that NBC Universal Entertainment co-chairman Ben Silverman was leaving the job. The network has dropped so far in the ratings that a changing of the guard was all but inevitable. As The New York Times' Brian Stelter tweeted this morning: "Act surprised: Ben Silverman is out at NBC." (To be clear, however, this was one of those carefully-choreographed departures. At the same time that his departure was announced, Silverman said he was starting a new venture in association with Barry Diller's IAC Corp.. More on that below.)

Silverman, the wunderkind who brought "The Office" and "The Biggest Loser" to NBC (but when he was at the helm of his own company, Reveille), had presided over what used to be the "must-see TV" network, now mired in fourth place in the ratings, and having to accept declines in the CPM during this upfront of roughly seven percent. In fairness, Silverman's first slate of NBC programming -- as was the case with the other networks -- suffered mightily last fall from the prolonged writers' strike, which hampered production, but the TV game has never been about fair.

Replacing him is Jeff Gaspin, who has headed up NBC Universal's cable properties, and in that, this is both a familiar executive shuffle, and a sign of the times. The silver lining of the broadcast net's performance is that its cable networks -- particularly ratings leader USA Network -- have been doing extremely well, and, of course, those nets (which also include the newly rebranded SyFy and Bravo), are chockful of original series, ranging from USA's "Monk" to Bravo's "Real Housewives ... " franchise. USA, for example, had eight of the top 20 series on ad-supported cable for the week of July 13th. As there are more and more instances where individual shows on cable beat out broadcast fare in the ratings, Gaspin's appointment -- he will retain supervision of the cable properties -- isn't surprising, but it is logical. In addition to his cable experience, he has worked on a number of NBC's non-scripted (i.e. reality) broadcast hits, including "The Apprentice" and "Fear Factor." That's why, to close watchers of NBC, it's not just the departure of Silverman that isn't a surprise, it's also the appointment of Gaspin. As Simon Applebaum, who anchors the podcast "Tomorrow Will Be Televised" told me: "There's a lot of people inside NBC Universal advocating a fast track for Gaspin, given his success with Bravo and the other NBCU-owned cable nets, as well as earlier success at VH1."

As for Silverman's new venture, it looks like some sort of TV production/ad agency hybrid, which he described to the Times' Bill Carter as "Warner Bros. Meets BBDO." In a statement, Diller described it this way:

This new venture will take full advantage of all areas of Ben Silverman's extensive media expertise â€" as an agent, producer and advertising innovator â€" to create a truly integrated and truly interactive new media production entity, a next generation enterprise that bridges the gap between traditional television and the internet.
If what exactly that means is unclear to you, you're not alone.

Previous coverage of NBC Universal at BNET Media:

NBC's Intriguing Jimmy Fallon Experiment Boston's WHDH to NBC: Actually, Jay Leno Rocks! Leno, NBC, Laugh All the Way to the Bank