Without Breasts There Is No Paradise

Ben Silverman buys his first show for NBC.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Ben Silverman

Wow: NBC’s new entertainment co-chairman Ben Silverman is moving fast. Variety reports that his first move is to acquire the rights to the Colombian telenovela Sin tetas no hay paraiso (“Without Breasts There Is No Paradise”).

The original told the story of a young woman determined to escape poverty through big kaboombas. She becomes a prostitute and finds herself entangled with a drug dealer. Caliente!

In Colombia—where sexism is waning—there were protests about the series’ depiction of women. 

You might recall that some expressed doubts  about Silverman’s intentions when he took the job at NBC. He cited Brandon Tartikoff and Norman Lear as his role models and vowed that NBC would be about quality programming. Apparently he assumed that everyone knew about the tata exception.

Silverman cited “Without Breasts” as an example of synergy, that magical word, since NBC-Uni will produce the programs in-house, creating English- and Spanish-language versions. In other words, Silverman plans to squeeze every last drop from this luscious pair.

“I scour the world for the best ideas and for the game-changing hit shows and ‘Sin Tetas’ is one of those shows,” said Silverman, whose success (Ugly Betty, The Office) has mostly come from remakes of foreign shows. God knows what high-end material he’ll come up with when he starts scouring countries where female circumcision is practiced. (link)

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Lindsay Lohan in The Parent Trap

Day of the locust: If you’re sure that your most recent meal is safely digested, consider this bit of information from the Mediaweek Web site:

Dina Lohan, mother of troubled young actress Lindsay Lohan, is in conversations with E! Entertainment to appear in a reality series called Mom-ager. The focus on the non-scripted show will be on Dina’s attempt to make Lindsay’s younger siblings Ali, 14, and Cody, 11, stars.

Things with Lindsay have been going so well that apparently her loving ma can’t wait for her younger siblings to follow in her footsteps. Or maybe she just she needs an insurance star, with Lindsay going off the rails. (Dina’s show-business appetites are so voracious that according to Wednesday’s Page Six she’s resorted to padding her own résumé.)

As for E!, after capitalizing on the drug-addled antics of Anna Nicole Smith, the channel is ready for more. Obviously Lindsay herself is too big a star for the E! lineup—although if she lives, she may be headed in that direction. But she has two younger siblings who might, with any luck, self-destruct before the cameras while under the tender ministrations of their mom-ager.

Apparently, this planned show is too much for some E! insiders. “People feel like [Lindsay] is going to die—and we’re not helping,” one said.

The Los Angeles Times ran a creditable piece last week on the state of Lohan’s career. Most stunning was the section about the companies who were willing to sponsor a 21st birthday party extravaganza in Las Vegas planned for July 2-3. (Whether that’s still going to happen isn’t clear.) Svedka Vodka denied that it had planned to sponsor a bash at Pure nightclub, an event that was supposed to attract 500 guests and net Lohan a seven-figure payday. But the ironically named Benefit Cosmetics said it was still onboard for the after-party.

It’s hard to fathom how E! and these others can overlook the tragedy that’s unfolding, thanks to the paparazzi, before the world’s eyes. And to us, it seems like a poignant story indeed, especially when you look back at the adorable and manifestly talented child who appeared in The Parent Trap. Lohan has grown into a luminous young woman, and her potential so far exceeds that of Britney or Paris that it’s truly excruciating to watch her self-destruct.

Full disclosure: Hollywoodland’s spouse is a producer who has worked for E! (link)

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Ben Silverman

Silver surfer: Last week, your Hollywoodland correspondent had a chance to eyeball Ben Silverman, television’s “it” boy and new co-chief of the NBC network and television studio. (An interview with him is set to air on NPR’s All Things Considered today and will be available at npr.org.)

We found Silverman very business-savvy and manifestly ambitious despite a boyish, dressed-down look. And wired: When he talks, his foot twitches like a fish on a line.

Silverman tends to speak in the first person even when talking about group efforts (as when he mentions The Tudors on Showtime and says, “What I did with the period piece there is the kind of thing that I need to do inside the genres that broadcast television has embraced”). He said he feels like Björn Borg, quitting tennis at his peak but instead of retiring, switching to NASCAR.

But clearly, this agent-turned-producer has no wish to be viewed as the despoiler of NBC. He does not want his legacy to be the guy who degraded the network’s reputation for appealing to upscale audiences with shows like The Office. Yes, NBC still has that tony reputation, despite Fear Factor and Deal or No Deal. Consider the alternatives.

Since Silverman produced The Office in addition to the well-received Ugly Betty, it may seem counterintuitive and wrong to perceive him as a monger of schlock. But he bears several traits that those who dream of quality television find worrisome. One is his penchant for so-called reality shows (he helped bring Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? to the United States and produced The Biggest Loser, among others). He’s also shrewdly capitalized on integrating advertising into programming (e.g., a Chili’s deal with The Office), which worries those who feel that creativity is likely to suffer when advertisers gain even more influence than they already have.

And he has a reputation primarily for repackaging stuff from overseas rather than being an original creative force (his big shows originated in Britain or Latin America). Those shows have been doing very nicely, though perhaps not nicely enough to change the world. But the people who are rooting for him to fail like to observe that remaking foreign programs is far different from developing a full schedule of shows from scratch. Silverman doesn’t argue the point. “Sometimes starting with intellectual property rights or something that pre-exists makes it a littler easier to blow it out commercially because you can kind of start with a framework, and then a writer and talent can kind of add their own nuance, texture, and depth to it,” he acknowledges.

Another eyebrow-raiser for many is the fact that he maintains ownership in his production company, Reveille, which creates the potential for conflict of interest. Silverman says he won’t participate in decisions involving his shows, but how convincing it that? (And who decides what to schedule against Ugly Betty, which airs on a rival network?)

It’s not necessarily that people are rooting for Silverman personally to fail. But they do want Jeff Zucker, who hired him, to fail. Zucker has long been seen as a man who has triumphed despite his mistakes, suggesting that the laws of gravity are really only guidelines. In this instance, he is blamed for screwing Kevin Reilly, the NBC entertainment president who lost his job in the shake-up. (Note that Reilly helped Silverman overcome the taint of the spectacularly bad British import Coupling by championing The Office when it was on the brink of cancellation. But, as the saying goes, it’s not personal, Kevin—it’s just business.) In the minds of Zucker’s enemies, the NBC Universal chairman shivved Reilly for his own failings in order to chase heat without having any better plan than he had before.

Speaking of which, Silverman is known as a voracious party animal, and rumor has it that Zucker was not fully aware of the degree. Silverman acknowledges that he has fully exploited the perquisites of being young, successful, rich, in show business, and single. Befriending the talent meant leading life a certain way, he says—but he realizes his sails need to be trimmed. Given what went before, many wonder how he’ll handle the tedium of pressing the flesh of affiliates and advertisers. Of course, he has NBC Entertainment Co-chairman Marc Graboff to help with some of that.

To counter the negative perception, Silverman has invoked the spirit of the late Brandon Tartikoff, wunderkind head of the network in the time of Hill Street Blues and Cheers, so many times that Variety actually admonished him for it. He also pointed out that his reality shows are uplifting, adding that he doubts Fear Factor could find a place on NBC today. (The other networks are mostly off that kind of programming at this point, too, since it seemed to reach its depressing nadir some time ago.)

The good news may be that Silverman will try to prove himself by making a genuine effort to come up with worthy shows—shows with some substance. And since, at this point, his instincts are in sync with the zeitgeist, he may be able to make them work. (link)