It’s official: NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke will be exiting the network to head originals at Amazon Studios, leaving the broadcast network a sizable hole to fill in its executive ranks.
For NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt, who recently extended his contract with the first-place network, the internal candidates to replace Salke aren’t as myriad as you’d expect. NBC, sources say, is expected to have news about Salke’s successor by the end of next week.
It’s unclear whether the network will promote from within or look to an outside candidate to replace Salke. Her exit comes as NBC has shuffled its executive ranks of late, losing key players including George Cheeks (to NBCU’s cable side) and Vernon Sanders (who returned to his producing roots).
As president of entertainment since 2011, Salke was charged with comedy and drama development, leading current programming, casting and diversity programming initiatives for NBC as well as studio sibling Universal Television. In January, she added oversight of business affairs and production for scripted programming after Cheeks was named co-president of cable-focused scripted studio Universal Cable Productions and unscripted counterpart Wilshire Studios. Salke reported directly to Greenblatt.
Cheeks, long considered a rising star within NBC, where he’s been since 2012 (he continues to serve as president of NBC’s late-night programming, reporting directly to Greenblatt on that side), co-leads UCP and Wilshire Studios with Dawn Olmstead, reporting to NBCU Cable Entertainment chairman Bonnie Hammer. The duo took over UCP and Wilshire leadership after Jeff Wachtel stepped down from his role as chief content officer at NBCU in favor of moving to London to serve as president of NBCU International Studios. His role as chief content officer is not being replaced. Olmstead had been Wachtel’s No. 2.
With Salke taking over scripted production and business affairs, Paul Telegdy, president of NBC’s alternative and reality group, took on the same roles on the unscripted and alternative side as well as full oversight of first-run syndication (which had been under Cheeks’ purview).
On the development side, Lisa Katz joined NBC as exec vp drama in June 2016, replacing Pearlena Igbokwe, who was promoted to run Universal Television. The former 20th Century Fox TV senior vp drama development reported directly to Salke, with whom she had worked at the Fox-owned studio. Katz has relationships with Lee Daniels (Empire, Star) and This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman (having worked with him on Fox’s short-lived baseball drama Pitch). Before 20th, Katz spent seven years at Brillstein Grey, working on both comedy and drama series including The Sopranos, Just Shoot Me and The Steve Harvey Show. Katz’s comedy counterpart is Tracey Pakosta, who moved from Universal Television to NBC in 2015 and replaced Sanders in the position. (Sanders, formerly head of current programming, stepped down in November in favor of a producing deal with the studio, for whom he’s producing NBC drama pilot The Enemy Within. (Twenty-year NBC vet Bruce Evans replaced Sanders as exec vp current, reporting to Salke.) Pakosta has helped reinvigorate NBC’s comedy brand with Mike Schur’s The Good Place and the Will & Grace revival (both already renewed for next season).
Another option could be Igbokwe, who has been running UTV since June 2016 when she was tapped to replace Bela Bajaria. (The latter exited after a five-year run during which she was criticized for not supplying enough hits to the network.) Igbokwe moved from NBC to run UTV and reported directly to Salke. She previously served as exec vp development at NBC, joining the network in 2012 after a 20-year run at Showtime, where she had worked under Greenblatt during his oversight of the premium cabler. In her NBC drama role, Igbokwe helped develop series including The Blacklist, Blindspot, Chicago Med, Shades of Blue, Timeless, Taken and, perhaps most importantly, This Is Us.
Relationships with producers will remain paramount to the network and studio side during the search for Salke’s replacement as deep-pocketed rivals Amazon, Netflix, Apple and Hulu are competing for top talent in a bid to have greater ownership of their content. (Shonda Rhimes recently left longtime home ABC Studios for a $100 million deal at Netflix, for example.)
Salke leaves NBC in first place among the Big Four networks. The Salke and Greenblatt years at NBC have been an unquestionable success, though the network’s No. 1 status relies largely on its substantial sports portfolio (Sunday Night Football and the Olympics) and alternative czar Telegdy’s unparalleled roster of reality programming (The Voice and America’s Got Talent).
For her part, Salke was considered pivotal in This Is Us‘ 2016 launch on NBC. The family drama has gone on to become the highest-rated series among the broadcast networks. And while marquee hits like This Is Us are few and far between for all networks, NBC has found success in stable schedule-fillers where other nets have fallen behind. Dick Wolf’s franchise of Chicago-set procedurals, for one, have carried many nights for the network. On the comedy front, there have been critical darlings (The Good Place, Superstore) but fewer breakouts — the recent reboot of Will & Grace being one big exception.
But the specifics can get lost in the overarching narrative. Salke ran NBC Entertainment through its recent boom years, an end to the long-mocked fall from grace after the days of Friends and ER. She also gets credit for This Is Us, the current envy of every TV programmer.
Salke’s departure comes as NBC has already picked up the bulk of its pilot orders for the 2018-19 broadcast season. The network this season ordered eight dramas and six comedies. In terms of volume, that’s even with last year, when it ordered six dramas and eight comedies.