Ben Silverman doesn’t handle his stress too well. “I lost six pounds in a week, dealing with this,” the already-skinny executive producer of The Office and Ugly Betty says backstage at the Peabody Awards. Less than a month ago during the upfronts, he met with NBC Universal president and CEO Jeff Zucker and mentioned he was thinking of leaving Reveille, the production company he’d founded. In short order, Zucker fired NBC Entertainment president Kevin Reilly—who’d just signed a three-year contract in February—and named Silverman co-chairman of NBC Entertainment and NBC Universal Television Studio.
Now Silverman’s summer’s been turned upside down. “I’ll be in Burbank—where August is great!” he says. He doesn’t have an office yet but he’s already having to learn the company line while trying to extricate himself from most of the shows he had day-to-day stewardship of. He’ll have to step away from Ugly Betty, since it’s on ABC. But he gets to stay involved with The Office as part of his deal: “I wouldn’t have gone to another network because I would have had to give up that baby.”
So far his schtick about pulling NBC out of fourth place is refreshingly unpracticed. He gives an impassioned speech about how he’ll get viewers to tune in on Friday nights, but pokes fun at a reporter who says he stays in: “I’m not home on a Friday, buddy.” He admits he hasn’t had time to watch all of NBC’s fall shows. “But I loved Journeyman,” he says, “and found the male lead … name is …”—a publicist whispers, “Kevin McKidd”—“…Kevin McKidd to be extraordinary.” And when someone mentions she loves Friday Night Lights, he says, “Great! Can you multiply yourself by a million? Or better yet, ten million?” He says one of the first things he did upon getting the job was to call Donald Trump to see about fixing The Apprentice, which wasn’t on the fall lineup. What about recruiting Freaks and Geeks creator Paul Fieg and Knocked Up director Judd Apatow? “Don’t think that those e-mails have not gone out already,” he says. As the room clears out, B. J. Novak, who plays Ryan Howard, the newly made boss on The Office, says he’s going to base his character on Silverman. “I want to do for Ben what Piven does for Ari Emanuel,” he says. “I’ve been studying his mannerisms: huge enthusiasm, and then he’ll slip in an incredible knowledge of specifics, way deep into a lot of complicated handshakes and backslapping.”