Bela Bajaria Upped to Universal TV President; Shake-Up in Comedy Department

Christopher Patey
Bela Bajaria

Tracey Pakosta also assumes head of comedy at NBC Entertainment, pushing Vernon Sanders to a top role in current.

NBC is playing yet another game of musical chairs.

The network's comedy head, Vernon Sanders, is being replaced by Universal TV's Tracey Pakosta, who will attempt to reinvigorate a comedy brand that has had a particularly rough time of late. As part of the shake-up, Sanders will now run point on current (both in drama and comedy) and studio chief Bela Bajaria has been promoted to president of Universal Television.

“Bela has done an incredible job of starting a studio from scratch three years ago and launching a series of hits on programming services ranging from NBC and Fox to A&E and Netflix. This business is very important to the overall performance at NBC Entertainment,” said NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt, referencing deals for shows including The Mindy Project (Hulu), Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox) and Bates Motel (A&E). Growing the studio's off-net portfolio has been a key priority for Bajaria since she took the reins there in summer 2011.

News of Pakosta shifting to the network should please the deep bench of Universal TV comedy talent, who have struggled to get space — never mind find success — on NBC's schedule. (The most high-profile example being 30 Rock duo Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, whose Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt was moved to Netflix when it became clear NBC would have a tough time finding an audience for it.) Last month, Greenblatt announced only two comedies would join the NBC schedule this fall, and both will be relegated to Friday nights. 

In the past, Greenblatt and NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke have been vocal about the comedy challenges at the network. Early on, they attempted to broaden out the network's offerings, a move to lure more viewers than were previously captured by little-watched critical darlings like 30 Rock, Community and Parks and Recreation. When it was clear by May 2014 that that plan had failed, then-comedy chief Tal Rabinowitz was ousted and Sanders was given his shot. 

Added Salke, "Tracey Pakosta is a superb comedy executive with many years of experience and we’re thrilled to have her come to NBC. This will position NBC very strongly in the comedy business moving forward, which is a major goal for us.”