Monday, 1 September 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #159: Are You Cut Out For the Suit?

A tip of my rain-sodden sombrero to the always indefatigable Nikki Finke for reports about how NBC-Universal is not happy with how alleged wunderkind producer Ben Silverman is working out and are looking for a way to get rid of him that doesn't involve the usual Golden Handshake or homicide.

I'm not going to dwell on the allegations of what substance is going into what person, or judge the reports of his private behaviour, I'm too far out of the loop to discuss those issues. What I can discuss is how someone with success as a producer, like Silverman, may not always be the best choice for an executive position in a studio or TV network.

Looking at his record Silverman's biggest successes started when he was an agent linking up foreign shows & concepts with American producers. He took that philosophy with him when he left the legions of ten-percenters and started Reveille Entertainment, which didn't create much original content, preferring to import foreign material, and Americanizing it. This led to some hits, a few misses, and his current tenuous position at NBC.

Now why are knives being sharpened?

Well, no matter how savvy and successful you may be as a producer, it doesn't always translate into executive success.

Silverman's record shows a man who is a good salesman. He can pitch the Ice Capades to the Inuit, but salesmanship isn't everything, especially when you're an executive. You see a producer isn't the person who actually makes the film/TV show, but the producer is the person who gets the film/TV show made. It's the producer's job to sell, sell, sell, to investors, to studios, to networks, whatever it takes to get the film done in the can, and making money.

Some producers are very involved in the creative process. Developing original properties from cradle to the screen, and have that gambler's love of risk when they think the project's worth it.

Silverman doesn't strike me as that kind of producer. He seems most comfortable with properties that have already had success in foreign markets, and his creative contribution, is mostly salesmanship within the Hollywood community.

Now an Executive, especially at a network, is not the salesman, but the buyer. And when that buyer gets involved, the executive's concern isn't about selling it to other residents of the Axis of Ego, it's supposed to be about shaping and selling that product to the great unwashed hordes of the general public. That's not always the case looking at some of the crappy, disastrous shows stinking up the airwaves, but that's what it's supposed to be.

The Executive is also an administrator. That means dealing with the day to day mundane chores of running a studio or network, solving management problems, and soothing strained relations.

Some producers also excel at administration, but Silverman doesn't strike me as one of them.

Also there's Silverman's apparent desire to be a "star" in his own right. The TV guest appearances, and other stories of his "showmanship" maybe all right if you're a producer. Showmanship is part of the job, but Executives are not stars, they're the people who make stars, and when they start seeking their own spotlight, it rarely, if ever ends well.

When one puts together the reports of Silverman missing meetings, not really being there when physically present, lingering in Beijing longer than prudent, and other peccadilloes, you get the impression of a man who appears to be deeply bored by actually doing the job he was hired to do.

Some folks just aren't cut out to put on the executive suit. It takes a rare person to do their job and not be intoxicated by the glamour of having power in Show-biz, even rarer nowadays.

If NBC wants to reclaim their former spot on top of the networks, they really need to not only look at how they do business, but in who is doing that business for them.

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