Silverman a rare double threat

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With his nominations for NBC's "The Office" and ABC's "Ugly Betty," Ben Silverman became the first producer in 34 years to earn two noms in the best comedy series category.

The other producer to accomplish the feat was none other than Silverman's idol, Norman Lear, who received nominations for "All in the Family" and "Maude" in 1973.

Silverman, who recently left producing to join the executive ranks as co-chairman of NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios, grew up with Lear's series.

"I loved all of his shows — they not only made me laugh but also have great values," he said. "I love that combination in his voice, and I think that 'The Office' and 'Ugly Betty' are in that mold."

The parallels don't stop here.

Like "Office," "Family" was based on a British format.

Lear developed two pilots based on the concept for ABC, but the network ultimately turned down the project, which was then picked up by CBS. Launched as a midseason replacement in 1971, the show languished in the ratings for its first few months before critics took notice and the audience began to build.

"Office," a 2005 midseason replacement, was immediately embraced by critics but had a rough start in the ratings and faced cancellation before breaking out in its second season.

"Betty" also was based on a foreign format, the hit Colombian telenovela "Yo Soy Betty la Fea."

It took Silverman three tries to develop a U.S. version of "Betty" — a half-hour for NBC, which he set up as an agent at WMA, and two attempts as a producer at ABC Studios, including the teaming with writer Silvio Horta and producer Salma Hayek that led to the hit starring America Ferrera.

Silverman's persistence came from advice he received from Lear, whom Silverman sought out and met with when he was launching his company Reveille in 2002.

"His biggest piece of advice was to be completely committed and passioned, to follow through and hold on to your convictions," Silverman said. "That served me in getting 'Office' done as well as 'Ugly Betty' and 'The Tudors.' "

In addition to "Betty," Silverman also executive produces Showtime's drama "Tudors," which earned four Emmy nominations Thursday.

In 1973, when he was nominated for "Family" and "Maude," Lear won the statuette for "Family."

Silverman, who won last year for "Office," seems on track to repeat that Lear feat, too, with "Betty" and "Office" this year considered front-runners in the comedy series race.

In an interesting twist of fate, the Emmy nominations come the same week that Silverman lured Lear back to television to develop and executive produce his first series project in a long time, a battle-of-the sexes dramedy for NBC.

And shortly after the nominations were announced Thursday, Silverman boarded a plane to Europe to attend Lear's 85th birthday party.

His present? "I'll try to help him get an Emmy nomination next year," Silverman said. "That would be so great."
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