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This story first appeared in the Aug. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Many people in Hollywood never have heard of Jeff Shell, who has been chairman of NBCUniversal International since 2011. But that soon could change. NBCU is mum about plans for Shell, but it appears that this favored son of cable giant and NBCU owner Comcast could be relocating from his home in London for what would have to be a major job in Los Angeles. What job remains a mystery.
A few months ago, the 47-year-old executive purchased a 4,355-square-foot, $7.25 million house in Beverly Hills. (Fun fact: At one point, the house, built in 1926, belonged to beleaguered film financier David Bergstein.) What opportunity could be big enough to lure an executive universally described as a star? One persistent rumor has been that Shell will assume a major role at Universal Pictures and possibly a role at the theme parks. The top job is held by veteran Ron Meyer; studio chairman Adam Fogelson is a direct report to NBCU CEO Steve Burke.
Universal’s film studio has been on a good run with such hits as Fast & Furious 6 and Despicable Me 2, though R.I.P.D. proved to be a significant bomb. Others have wondered whether Shell might play a role on the TV side, where NBC still is struggling, or whether he might be tapped for something completely outside of NBCU.
In the frenzy of speculation about major assignments following Comcast’s acquisition of NBCUniversal in 2011, insiders tagged Shell as someone to watch.
Those who know him say he’s a capable executive who inspired enough confidence to be dispatched to London to oversee all NBCU international business, including TV and film distribution, home entertainment and theme parks. He reports to Burke but also is responsible for identifying international growth opportunities for Comcast.
Vince Wataca, formerly a communications executive who worked with Shell at Fox Sports and has been a Comcast consultant, says he is “a blast to be around.” He and wife Laura Shell are avid Barack Obama supporters (unlike Burke); the president has nominated Shell to be chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, an agency overseeing government-funded international broadcasting. (That board meets in Washington, and every member lives in the U.S.; the previous acting chair was Sony executive Michael Lynton.) Laura worked for L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky as his planning deputy until the family moved to Philadelphia in 2005.
Before Comcast, Shell was CEO of Gemstar TV Guide and spent six years as president of Comcast Programming Group, home to E!, Style and Comcast Sports Group, which included 12 regional networks. The experience primes him for just about any role in the NBCU universe.
NBCU declined comment on Shell’s future, though an insider acknowledges that Los Angeles is on the horizon — at some point.
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