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“Susan is the bold creative force we need as we rethink the future of our business,” NBCU TV and streaming chairman Mark Lazarus said in a statement Monday. “Throughout this process I have been consistently impressed by her strong perspective, track record of success and passion for content. Susan joins a great team that is poised to begin a new era at NBCU.”
Monday’s formal announcement — which included her formal title as chairman of entertainment content, NBCUniversal TV and streaming — comes three days after she exited as president of Warner Bros. TV. Rovner’s move from Warners to NBCU was expected. The Hollywood Reporter reported Sept. 7 that NBCU had landed on Rovner following a lengthy public search for an entertainment programming exec. Rovner confirmed she would be leaving Warners on Sept. 9 when she sent a brief memo to staff detailing her plan to exit come Oct. 2. With her time at the studio now in the rear-view mirror, NBCU has made Rovner’s hiring official. (NBCU, until Monday, had declined comment.)
With the move from being a seller at studio Warners to a buyer at NBCU, Rovner will lead creative strategy for original entertainment content across NBCU’s broadcast, cable and streaming platforms. These include NBC, Bravo, E!, Oxygen, Syfy, Universal Kids, USA and Peacock. Her purview includes oversight of current programming for scripted, unscripted, late night and specials, and first-run syndication. Prior to this move, which required Warners let her out of her contract, she had been considered the heir apparent to replace Peter Roth as chairman at Warner Bros. TV Group. Her departure now leaves Warners without a next in line for Roth, whose current deal expires next year.
At NBCU, Rovner will be charged with leading centralized content groups covering scripted, unscripted, alternative and late night. As part of its shift from a vertically aligned company into a horizontal structure, NBCU is expected to reorganize staff by genre rather than by network. That means that an exec working on unscripted fare at Bravo could soon be involved with a larger portfolio of the same genre for multiple NBCU networks as well. The strategy is the latest effort to unify development for a larger portfolio. Rovner will be charged with the consolidation among the creative ranks.
“I have such enormous respect for [NBCU CEO] Jeff Shell and Mark Lazarus, and their vision for the future of content at NBCU made this an extraordinary opportunity,” Rovner said. “I have long admired Frances Berwick and look forward to what I know will be a successful partnership. NBCU has a deep-rooted tradition of having the best programming from visionary creators, and I feel so grateful for the opportunity to join this incredible organization as it builds on that legacy to head into the future.”
Reporting to Lazarus, Rovner will be on the same footing as Frances Berwick. Former Lifestyle Networks chief Berwick was promoted Aug. 6 as part of a major restructuring at NBCU and now oversees a considerably larger portfolio for the conglomerate. Berwick, who oversees business strategy for the entertainment portfolio, is charged with setting the broader tone for networks as well as their budgets, research and marketing. Berwick will also develop and implement strategies for which content is picked up and how to best launch it across its multiple brands. (Berwick set her leadership team last month.)
A major round of layoffs is expected to come as part of NBCU’s new structure, which is being overseen by Lazarus and NBCU CEO Jeff Shell. As part of the new hierarchy, NBC Entertainment chairman Paul Telegdy unceremoniously exited the company. His exit arrived less than a week after NBC launched an investigation into claims that Telegdy fostered a toxic culture, which were detailed extensively by THR. His duties are now being folded into the entertainment programming position held by Rovner. The setup marks the first time that NBC has not had its own dedicated entertainment chairman.
At the same time, the broadcaster becomes the latest linear network to have its oversight folded into an executive with a wider scope as the TV industry better positions itself for the streaming era and looks to trim costs amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. The realignment is also expected to create millions in cost savings, with redundancies among programming, marketing and scheduling divisions expected to be eliminated in a bid to create a more unified and leaner company. It is a similar approach Shell put in place in May with his news division.
Rovner, for her part, is expected to set her own leadership team. Not yet clear is whether it will include NBC alternative head Meredith Ahr, who sources allege played a key role alongside Telegdy in fostering a toxic culture at the network. In recent weeks, rumors have swirled that Warners’ unscripted chief Mike Darnell could also defect to NBCU, though both conglomerates have denied such a move. Meanwhile, NBCU is continuing its investigation into Telegdy and, under Lazarus, launched a second and broader probe into the company’s overall culture. Results of those investigations are, per sources, nearing their conclusion.
Rovner’s hiring follows a public search in which sources say NBCU leadership was focused on recruiting a woman and person of color for the position. Netflix vp local language Bela Bajaria — who incidentally was pushed out at studio Universal TV in 2016 — is said to have turned down the job (and was subsequently promoted to the top TV role at the streamer). Universal TV president Pearlena Igbokwe — who replaced Bajaria — was also floated for the post; she was subsequently promoted to run NBCU’s combined studios. Other names that were floated include Netflix vp originals Channing Dungey, former HBO Max and TNT, TBS and TruTV programmer Kevin Reilly (who was recently ousted as part of WarnerMedia’s own reorganization), ViacomCBS chief creative officer David Nevins, Hulu senior vp scripted originals Craig Erwich and Bill McGoldrick, with the latter already overseeing programming for Peacock, USA and Syfy. It’s unclear how Rovner’s new role will impact McGoldrick, an exec who is highly regarded by creatives, agents and top execs across town. In a sign of the latter, he was personally selected by NBCU Content Studios vice chair Bonnie Hammer to oversee originals for top priority Peacock.
Rovner comes to NBCU after more than a 20-year run at Warners. After joining the studio in 1998 as a drama exec, she rose through the ranks while developing hits including The O.C., Everwood, Gossip Girl, Fringe, The Vampire Diaries and Supernatural, among others. She was promoted to co-president (alongside Brett Paul) of Warner Horizon Scripted in 2014, launching cable and streaming series including Animal Kingdom, David Makes Man, Queen Sugar, You and Pennyworth, among others. Last year, she and her longtime business-focused collaborator Paul were promoted to co-presidents of Warner Bros. TV, where they took over day-to-day business for the studio, reporting to Roth, who was later promoted to chairman of the larger WBTV Group. Rovner — who has close relationships with showrunners including super-producer Greg Berlanti and Josh Schwartz (Gossip Girl), among many others — and Paul had oversight of 60 scripted originals as they took on some of the duties Roth had held on to for years.
In August, following a round of 600 layoffs as part of a larger company-wide consolidation, Warners merged all of its studio operations under Roth with Paul and Rovner given the day-to-day reins. As part of the shuffle, drama head Clancy Collins White was upped to a new role overseeing all scripted development, reporting directly to Rovner. The move was considered by many industry insiders to be laying the groundwork for Rovner’s pending ascension to take over for Roth.
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