Sources: Reilly set to exit NBC

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NBC Entertainment president Kevin Reilly is leaving the network, sources said, three years after he was named to the job and three months after signing a new multiyear deal with NBC.

Reilly's decision to step down, which appears imminent, is said to have been triggered by NBC Universal's decision to pursue investing in Ben Silverman's successful production company, Reveille, and recruiting Silverman at the network in a top executive position.

Such a scenario seemed to interfere with NBC's previous plan to consolidate development at the network and sibling NBC Universal TV Studio under executive vp Katherine Pope, prompting Pope to also consider a departure from the network, sources said.

With NBC Uni TV Studio president Angela Bromstad close to leaving her post, probably for another position within NBC Universal, the departure of Reilly and his No. 2, Pope, would leave NBC without its three top development executives.

Reilly's exit is not a complete surprise as it was a favorite topic of conversation at the upfronts in New York two weeks ago, when industry insiders speculated about his possibly going to HBO in light of the recent ousting of HBO chairman and CEO Chris Albrecht.

Nevertheless, the timing of the executive shake-up at NBC is questionable. A change at the helm of a broadcast network is usually done before the net's upfront presentation so the top executive can be involved in the pickup of new series and in presenting the fall schedule to the ad community. Such was the case with the appointment of Reilly as well as ABC Entertainment's Stephen McPherson.

Reilly's departure, on the other hand, comes days after he unveiled NBC's fall schedule to advertisers and just as upfront ad buying is about to begin.

A lot is at stake for NBC on the upfront market, where the networks sell up to 80% of their ad inventory for the upcoming season. Once the undisputed ratings and ad market leader, NBC recently finished another season in fourth place, a big disappointment because it came after a ratings surge in the fall -- driven mostly by the freshman hit "Heroes," football, "Deal or No Deal" and "The Office" -- followed in the spring by historic Nielsen lows.

All the networks were hit by the spring ratings blues, but NBC -- whose hits "Office," "My Name Is Earl" and "Heroes" went on long hiatuses -- seems to have suffered the most.

NBC was the only network to address the problem of diminishing ratings in the reruns-ridden spring months at its upfront presentation, when Reilly announced extended seasons of its top three shows for next season. At the presentation, NBC's new fall series were generally well received by ad buyers, which speaks to Reilly's undisputed strength as a developer.

Although some of the series he has shepherded, like "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," have flopped, he added several successful shows to NBC's lineup, including "Office," "Earl," "Heroes" and "Deal." He also is credited for saving "Office" from a quick demise after its low-rated start as a 2005 midseason entry.

Coincidentally, "Office" is executive produced by Silverman. It brought the producer -- known until then mostly for reality shows -- legitimacy on the scripted side and last year earned him a best comedy series Emmy.

As much as Reilly is admired for his vision and development skills, he is said to have had issues with the management and business side of job. That is what is believed to have attracted NBC Uni CEO Jeff Zucker to Silverman, who has showed strong business acumen in building his five-year-old company into an indie powerhouse.

Reveille's roster of shows include "Office," ABC's "Ugly Betty" and Showtime's "The Tudors," as well as the unscripted series "The Biggest Loser" for NBC, "Nashville Star" for USA Network," "30 Days" for FX and "Blow Out" for Bravo. In addition to producing, Silverman handles the international distribution of Reveille as well as other companies' reality series. He also recently announced the launching of a film division that has a first-look deal with Universal Pictures.

Reveille's rapid success has made it a lucrative acquisition target. NBC Universal has the leverage of a long-standing relationship with Silverman, dating back to the launch of Reveille at Barry Diller's USA Entertainment, which later became part of Vivendi Universal.

It is understood that NBC has been talking to Silverman as well as Diller about a deal for Reveille.

This year, Reveille renewed and expanded its existing first-look pact with NBC Universal that now spans all of the company's TV divisions. That deal was orchestrated by Zucker.

Zucker's choice of Silverman as top dog at NBC is certainly unorthodox. But it also mirrors Zucker's own appointment at the division 6 1/2 years ago.

At 36, Silverman is a successful producer with a string of hits on the air but no executive experience. When he was named NBC Entertainment president in late 2000, Zucker was 35, a successful producer with a stellar career on the network's "Today" show but no experience as an executive.

Observers draw parallels to another NBC Entertainment president, the late Brandon Tartikoff, who gave Silverman an early career break at New World Entertainment. Silverman's boyish charm and personality are said to resemble those of the beloved Tartikoff, who at 30 became the youngest president at NBC Entertainment and went on to lead the network from last place to first in the ratings with a string of hits that included "Cheers," "The Cosby Show" and "Miami Vice."
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