George Cheeks, Paul Telegdy to Run NBC Entertainment as Bob Greenblatt Officially Exits

NBCUniversal boss Steve Burke made the announcement Monday in a memo to staff.
Courtesy of NBC Universal
From left: Bob Greenblatt, Paul Telegdy, George Cheeks

It's official: Bob Greenblatt's tenure as NBC Entertainment has come to an end.

NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke, in a memo to staff Monday morning, officially announced that George Cheeks and Paul Telegdy would take over for Greenblatt and serve as co-chairmen of NBC Entertainment. Cheeks and Telegdy's new roles are effective immediately. In their new posts, Cheeks and Telegdy will oversee NBC as well as both studios — broadcast-focused Universal Television Alternative Studios and Universal Television. Greenblatt will continue to stay on as a consultant through the transition and continue to work on NBC's live musicals. Greenblatt expressed "mixed feelings" about his sudden departure in a memo to staff that offered no reasoning behind his decison. (Read his memo in full, below.) 

"We are fortunate to have two extremely talented, capable and complementary executives inside our organization who are ready to step up and help guide us into the future," Burke said Monday in his memo. (Read it in full, below). "Having worked closely with George and Paul for years, I’m very confident that their creative instincts, talent relationships and business skills make them the perfect partners for the job. Both executives are beloved by their teams and extremely well respected by the entire industry."

The promotion caps a rapid rise to the top for Cheeks, who had been serving as co-president of Universal Cable Productions and Wilshire Studios and president of late-night programming at NBC Entertainment. He was promoted in January to run UCP and Wilshire following Jeff Wachtel's departure. Cheeks already had oversight of business affairs for NBCU's cable arm on top of his role overseeing NBC's late-night programming, the latter of which reported directly to Greenblatt. At the time, Cheeks stepped down as president of business operations for the network. NBC instead divided production and business affairs into their respective homes on the scripted and alternative sides. Cheeks had long been considered a rising star at NBC after joining the network in 2012.

"George is a strategist and masterful dealmaker who knows how to get things done the right way throughout NBCU," Burke said. "He has done an outstanding job leading business operations for NBC and as co-president of Universal Cable Productions and Wilshire Studios. As president of late night at NBC, he has also been instrumental in the success of one of the most popular and lucrative TV lineups in the industry. George’s ability to develop strong relationships has earned him the trust of some of our most discerning marquee talent, including Lorne Michaels, Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers."

Telegdy, meanwhile, most recently served as president of NBC Entertainment's alternative and reality group. He rose so quickly at NBC, at least in part, for his atypical success in an otherwise troubled reality landscape. Joining the network a decade ago, Telegdy gave NBC its biggest franchise in years with the 2011 launch of The Voice and developing a slew of other hits — American Nina Warrior, Game of Games, Little Big Shots — that bucked broadcast’s unfortunate trend of not being able to launch unscripted hits. Under Telegdy, America’s Got Talent has also been well-stewarded and, as of 2017, became the top reality property in all of U.S. TV.

Speculation of Telegdy’s eventual succession to the top of the network ladder gained heat in 2016, when a new job was created specifically for him — president of alternative and reality group. The new gig saw him get his own reality studio, Universal Television Alternative Studios, for which he appointed longtime deputy Meredith Ahr to run. The studio has helped NBC own many of its new reality launches, including recent breakouts World of Dance and Making It.

A native of the U.K., Telegdy initially came to Los Angeles for a new job with the BBC. He worked at BBC Productions and BBC Worldwide America, where he oversaw (among other things) Dancing With the Stars.

"Paul is a visionary and energetic executive who has helped develop some of the biggest hits in unscripted television today," Burke said. "He played a key role in NBC’s revitalization by acquiring The Voice in 2011 and developing it into the first big hit that helped propel NBC back to No. 1. He also developed American Ninja Warrior, World of Dance, Ellen’s Game of Games and America’s Got Talent, which just cinched the title of No. 1 alternative show on television. Under his leadership, Universal Television Alternative Studio was launched, which is on its way to becoming a major global player. His passion for broadcast television is evident in everything he does, including his ability to convince top talent, such as Jennifer Lopez, Amy Poehler, Dwayne Johnson and Kelly Clarkson, among others, to make NBC their home."

For his part, Greenblatt — who in August 2017 signed a new multiyear deal to remain at NBC — met with Burke over the weekend to formalize plans of his departure. He leaves the network as the rare broadcast executive to go out on top. Since joining the network in 2011 and first serving as entertainment president, the programmer has shepherded the network to a near-uncontested No. 1 in ratings among the key demo of adults 18-49. NBC did that in 2016-17 without aid from either the Super Bowl or an Olympic Games. And, in 2017-18, the network’s successful run among total viewers saw it edge out CBS in the summer to finish as the most-watched network in all of TV for the broadcast year.

The Greenblatt strategy has been one of big swings (see niche comedies like The Good Place) with broad appeal. His suite of Dick Wolf-produced dramas also has been a huge factor in the network’s stability. True bona fide hits have come from the music competition series The Voice, America’s Got Talent and a slew of other alternative offerings from reality czar Telegdy.

Burke called Greenblatt's decision "difficult," and noted that the exec is ready to take on a new challenge. Burke praised Greenblatt as the "architect" of one of "the largest turnarounds in network television history," during which he led NBC from last place to first in the all-important adults 18-49 demographic for five seasons in a row. Greenblatt's last move will have been leading NBC to becoming the most-watched network among total viewers for the first time in nearly two decades.

This Is Us has also been a massive breakout, the rare scripted hit on broadcast that has achieved both ratings, as the No. 1 drama on broadcast, and critical acclaim. (It was the only broadcast series to be nominated for the best drama Emmy in both 2017 and 2018.)

Greenblatt's sensibility, one of an avid Broadway fan, inspired the push for annual live musicals — some of which have been massive successes, like the first staging of The Sound of Music in 2013.

It is a particularly fraught time in broadcast for another executive turnover. Disney’s upcoming acquisition of Fox’s entertainment properties will orphan the Fox broadcast network and prompt changes at both Fox and ABC. The current leadership at CBS, appointed by now-ousted Leslie Moonves in 2017, has only been on the job for a year. Greenblatt's exit follows the February departure of entertainment president Jennifer Salke, who moved to Amazon. Drama and comedy heads Lisa Katz and Tracey Pakosta replaced her.

Here is Burke's memo to staff in full: 

I am writing to let you know that that Bob Greenblatt has decided to leave his position as chairman, NBC Entertainment. This was a difficult decision for Bob, but after a string of extremely successful years at NBC — and as much as I’d like him to stay — he is ready to embark on a new challenge.

I cannot thank Bob enough for the incredible success that NBC has achieved over the last eight years. He has been the architect of one of the largest turnarounds in network television history, leading NBC from last place when he started at NBCU right after Comcast’s acquisition of the company, to number one in the demo for five seasons in a row. This year, Bob led NBC to become the most-watched network in household ratings for the first time in nearly two decades. He has also brought a winning spirit to the network and attracted the best creative talent in the business.

Under his leadership, NBC generated numerous award-winning hit shows, including This Is Us, The Voice, Will & Grace, The Good Place, The Blacklist, and the Chicago franchise to name a few. Additionally, he helped engineer NBC’s seamless transition in late-night TV, which has kept us dominant in this daypart in a very competitive landscape. He also transformed the studio side of our business, re-establishing Universal Television and setting up our new alternative studio. These studios produce many of the best shows on television for NBC as well as for other platforms, including scripted shows such as Bates Motel, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Mindy Project, Master of None and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, as well as World of Dance and The Wall on the unscripted side for NBC.

One of Bob’s most innovative achievements was bringing the live musical genre back to network television, creating an annual NBC tradition that has become the envy of our competitors. From the first production of Sound of Music, which had 22 million viewers, to this year’s groundbreaking and Emmy Award-winning production of Jesus Christ Superstar Live In Concert, these musicals engage audiences in a new way and have helped to reinvent live television. 

Most importantly, Bob deserves credit for cultivating the strongest management team in broadcast television, a team he would be the first to give credit to for the network’s impressive performance. To that end, I am pleased to announce that George Cheeks and Paul Telegdy have been promoted to co-chairmen of NBC Entertainment, overseeing the network and both of its studios. We are fortunate to have two extremely talented, capable and complementary executives inside our organization who are ready to step up and help guide us into the future. Having worked closely with George and Paul for years, I’m very confident that their creative instincts, talent relationships and business skills make them the perfect partners for the job. Both executives are beloved by their teams and extremely well-respected by the entire industry.

Paul is a visionary and energetic executive who has helped develop some of the biggest hits in unscripted television today. He played a key role in NBC’s revitalization by acquiring The Voice in 2011 and developing it into the first big hit that helped propel NBC back to number one. He also developed American Ninja Warrior, World of Dance, Ellen’s Game of Games and America’s Got Talent, which just cinched the title of number one alternative show on television. Under his leadership, Universal Television Alternative Studio was launched, which is on its way to becoming a major global player. His passion for broadcast television is evident in everything he does, including his ability to convince top talent, such as Jennifer Lopez, Amy Poehler, Dwayne Johnson and Kelly Clarkson among others, to make NBC their home.

George is a strategist and masterful dealmaker who knows how to get things done the right way throughout NBCU. He has done an outstanding job leading business operations for NBC and as co-president of Universal Cable Productions and Wilshire Studios. As president of late night at NBC, he has also been instrumental in the success of one of the most popular and lucrative TV lineups in the industry. George’s ability to develop strong relationships has earned him the trust of some of our most discerning marquee talent, including Lorne Michaels, Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers. 

To ensure a smooth transition, Bob has agreed to continue to consult with Paul and George as needed, as well as continue to work on our live musicals.  

Please join me in congratulating both Paul and George on their new roles, and wishing Bob the very best in his future endeavors — which we hope will involve doing business with us whenever possible.

Here’s to a successful kickoff to the new fall season!

Steve

Here is Greenblatt's memo to staff in full:

To all my colleagues at NBC —
 
It is with very mixed feelings that I have decided to leave NBC after nearly eight years. I love this network and our parent company, but since NBC is back on track and has achieved such great success I think it’s time for me to turn to a new challenge. 
 
I will admit that when Steve Burke recruited me I wasn’t sure a turnaround was even possible. But Steve — and Brian — were determined to rebuild NBC and they made that clear to me from day one. I had unconditional support from them, including robust investment in the network, and that support has continued to this day. None of this could have happened without their commitment to me and this company and I will never forget it.
 
Nor could any of this have happened without your commitment. I’m so proud of what we achieved together, including a five-year run (and counting) at #1 in 18-49 and virtually every other demo. We also became the most watched network in America for the 2017-18 season which honestly was never even attainable in my mind. And while people tend to give me too much of the credit for these milestones, the truth is they only happened because of the incredible management teams across the entire company. 
 
Each of my direct reports, your senior leadership, is at the top of their game. And I’m pleased that Paul Telegdy and George Cheeks will step into my role because I think that will create a seamless transition for everyone. They are two of the most talented people I’ve ever worked with and I’m happy that Steve decided to promote them. They’re well-known to everyone in the company and to the entertainment community as passionate, gifted executives and NBC will be in great hands with them in their new role.
 
I want to also acknowledge and personally thank the other senior managers — Jeff Bader, Len Fogge, Chip Sullivan, Brad Melnick, Jodi DiCenzo, Tracey Pakosta, Lisa Katz, Pearlena Igbokwe, Lee Straus, Masami Yamamoto, Meredith Ahr, and Rob Hayes — who are also the best in their respective fields. It sounds like a broken record, but this is truly a dream team. I also want to acknowledge Jennifer Salke and Kathy Mandato who made indelible contributions to the rebuilding of this company over the past seven years as well. 
 
Beyond these leaders, I’m well aware of the depth of talent that cascades down through each of their respective teams. I know that the day-to-day operation of a broadcast network in today’s competitive environment is an extraordinary challenge, but you all make it look so effortless. And I have no doubt that will continue into the future.
 
I want to give special thanks to Mark Lazarus for being a great friend and partner in running the network for the last few years, not to mention making this place first class in sports. Likewise, I have to acknowledge the affiliate board and all our wonderful stations who have been in lock step with us on this turnaround from day one. Without their unwavering vision, none of this would have happened.
 
There are also many people at other divisions of NBCU that I will thank personally, all of whom showed me and this network great support in so many ways. This really is a unified media company that works together like I’ve never seen before, which is a testament to the incredible leadership of Steve Burke.
 
Finally, I want to commend all of the extraordinary show creators, producers, directors, writers, crews, and actors I’ve had the joy to work with over the years at NBC. We are nothing without their great work. I can’t name them all here, but it has been very rewarding to help bring their visions to life and thereby continue the legacy of this network. NBC is one of America’s great cultural institutions, and to have been given the opportunity to lead it into a new era is a privilege for which I will always be grateful.
 
I had the honor of knowing and working with Brandon Tartikoff in the mid-90s after he had left NBC and became a producer. The unmitigated pride I saw on his face whenever he talked about the network has always stayed with me. I also have known Grant Tinker’s sons for a long time, and to have heard from them that Grant was very pleased with NBC’s recent resurgence meant the world to me. And thanks to Warren Littlefield and Fred Silverman for the advice and support they each gave me when I first came aboard in 2011. 
 
Steve has asked me to consult with Paul and George as needed in the future and I’m happy to help in any way I can. And wherever my new journey takes me, I hope to find ways to do business with many of you and maintain so many of our friendships.
 
This has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  
 
Bob