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The player

NBC hired Ben Silverman to shake up Hollywood and reinvent television. Can he put anything on the air as totally awesome as the Ben Silverman show?

By Richard Siklos, editor at large
October 27, 2008: 1:49 PM ET

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Silverman on the Universal backlot, where an artificial squall is part of the tour.
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At his home in Santa Monica: Silverman, the self-described "airplane chairman" does business digitally, all over the world.
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Silverman's shows this season include Kath & Kim, with Molly Shannon and Selma Blair.

(Fortune Magazine) -- Ben Silverman e-mails from a stopover on the way back to Los Angeles from the Beijing Olympics:

"With david cameron head of tory party and billy and katie joel on way to join rupert and wendy murdoch and liz murdoch and matthew freud for my birthday weekend in greece. Had amazing meetings in china with head of intel asia who we are going to help market, head of china sovereign bank who wants to do weather channel type deals with us, kerry stokes who is our Australian partner and owns channel 7 in oz, michael phelps and his agent to book him on saturday night live while managing our promos marketing and creative via phone and email. This is how business gets done in 21st century. Human relationships and digital communication."

At any rate, this is how business gets done Ben Silverman style - in perpetual motion, on the fly, at all hours, often far away from NBC's offices in Burbank, Calif. When Jeff Zucker, CEO of media conglomerate NBC Universal (GE, Fortune 500), hired Silverman in the spring of 2007 to be co-chairman of NBC Entertainment with responsibility for putting hit shows on its airwaves, Silverman told him that he intended to be the company's "airplane chairman."

That was fine by Zucker, who wanted Silverman precisely because he was unconventional - an independent producer who had made a name for himself by his early 30s with his knack for developing foreign show concepts for the U.S. market, including the The Office and Ugly Betty, and for coming up with reality-TV shlock laden with product placements, like NBC's The Biggest Loser.

Silverman, 38, doesn't put much stock in attending pitch meetings or visiting sets where his shows are being recorded. Rather, he is, to borrow a term he likes to use, a "360" executive - someone who gets the whole media enchilada: the advertising, technological, and international aspects of the business as well as the creative end.

His job is not only to restore the Peacock Network's programming luster after a years-long ratings slump, but also to reposition the business for an age when the 30-second ad spot is in peril, broadcast audiences are shrinking, and digital diversions are multiplying.

Last broadcast season, Silverman's first at the network, he elevated NBC to second from fourth place in the 18-to-49 demographic group it targets, in a strange year when a Hollywood strike left broadcasters with few new shows to put on their schedules. Now Silverman's first real slate is making its debut, and to the horror and fascination of Hollywood traditionalists, he is taking the most overtly commercial approach to programming that broadcast TV has ever seen.

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