8TH UPDATE: Comcast is clearing the way for its pending announcement of the new NBC Universal top executive structure. Jeff Gaspin, who had felt more and more as the odd man out in Comcast’s plans for the post-merger NBCU, just sent out a note to NBC Universal employees announcing that he will depart the company following its merger with Comcast after he and new NBCU CEO Steve Burke “could not agree on an appropriate role” for him in the new company. Gaspin had 4 years left on his contract, which was breached by the merger and Burke replacing Jeff Zucker. Gaspin was furious when a report last week claimed he was gone because it wasn’t true: in fact the two men hadn’t made that decision yet even though everyone guessed that’d be the ultimate conclusion because it’s known that Burke wants to decrease the media company’s layers of management. Gaspin has spent a combined 19 years at NBCU, most recently as chairman of NBC Universal TV Entertainment. “I want to thank Jeff for his many significant contributions to NBCU and for his professionalism throughout the integration process,” Burke said in a statement. After sending the memo, Gaspin gathered his senior executive team for an emotional meeting.
EXCLUSIVE… 6TH & 7TH UPDATE: Jeff Gaspin is flying on an NBC Universal corporate jet from NYC back to LA right now and is telling fellow passengers that a report he is leaving the company is “not accurate”. As we’ve been saying all along, there are a lot of moving parts to this NBCU organizational restructure, and a lot hasn’t been pinned down yet. Gaspin, who is NBCU Television Group President/COO, falls into that category. We’ve learned that he hasn’t had a “definitive conversation” with Comcast about his future yet. And the fact is that, as of today, his future has not been decided. “It may turn out to be true that he leaves. And he’s preparing for it. But it’s not true right now,” an insider just told us.
EXCLUSIVE… 5TH UPDATE: We’ve confirmed that onetime CBS bigwig and now consultant Nancy Tellem has indeed been in formal talks with Comcast brass about taking a top job at NBC alongside Robert Greenblatt. The idea was that he would be in charge of creative, and she would fill a parallel NYC-based network president-type job. Both would report to new NBC Universal CEO Steve Burke. As we reported Comcast hopes to announce the new NBC Universal organizational structure — one which now may or may not include Jeff Gaspin who got on a plane Monday for NYC Monday to meet with Comcast brass. About Tellem, “Comcast is talking to her. Nothing has been decided yet though because there are still ongoing issues. But people are trying to work through those issues,” one insider told us. ”She wants to do it. She just has to make sure the job is right.” Tellem was among half a dozen top-level broadcast executives (including Fox Network Group Chairman/CEO Tony Vinciquerra) approached by Burke some months ago after the Comcast/NBC deal was announced. Tellem was most recently boss of the bulk of CBS Inc’s entertainment operations until she stepped down in December 2009 to become Senior Advisor To The CEO.
SATURDAY 3PM… 3RD & 4TH UPDATES: More intel from our insiders, with no official confirmations. And everyone keeps emphasizing that this situation is still very fluid with a lot still undecided. We now hear Comcast Programming Group President Jeff Shell would be based in London to focus on international. And that big top NBCU job being created to work alongside former Showtime entertainment president Bob Greenblatt could be ”a NY-based network president-type job that oversees stations, sales, and affiliates” but was originally conceived to be much broader. That strictly operational exec may work alongside programming chief Greenblatt and both could report directly to new NBC Universal CEO Steve Burke. As we previously informed, a TV veteran exec may be brought in from outside to head the new operations job, and the name we’re hearing most often from insiders is Nancy Tellem. ”I think there’s fire to the smoke,’ one insider tells us. We do know she was among half a dozen top-level broadcast executives (including Fox Network Group Chairman/CEO Tony Vinciquerra) approached by Burke some months ago after the Comcast/NBC deal was announced. Tellem, of course, has been Les Moonves’ longtime and much respected top lieutenant, and most recently boss of the bulk of CBS Inc’s entertainment operations. She stepped down in December 2009 to become Senior Advisor To The CEO. Tellem has kept a very low profile for the past year — as one CBS exec tells us, “She is just a consultant to us now so Les doesn’t see her much” – and insiders suggest she might be itching to return to active duty. Again, we have no confirmations because, as one insider notes, “Burke really thinks he’s protecting the nuclear codes here.”
SATURDAY AM… 2ND UPDATE: We’ve just learned that the Comcast announcement about NBC Universal’s new organizational structure is supposed to take place on November 15th. Meanwhile, more refined information about what could happen is coming in to us from insiders. Comcast Programming Group President Jeff Shell may “do something internationally”. Dick Ebersol, the Chairman of NBC Universal Sports & Olympics who’s been NBC’s controversial sports czar for more than two decades, would head the combined NBC and Comcast sports operation to better compete against the dominant Disney/ABC juggernaut ESPN. “They think he’s a brilliant operator and their savior. They’ll pickle him if they can.” Jeff Gaspin, chairman of NBCU TV Entertainment, “gets Randy Falco’s job — if he wants it,” a reference to the top broadcast operation job similar to the COO of NBCU TV Group post once held by Randy Falco. And insiders stress to us that the Bonnie Hammer/Lauren Zalaznick situation is “not resolved. They have to be careful not to put Bonnie and Lauren on tilt.” But it looks more likely that the more powerful Hammer will add the E! channel to her portfolio, not Zalaznick. Stay tuned.
EXCLUSIVE 5:45 PM:NBC Universal insiders tell us they expect a fresh “organizational structure” to be announced by new owner Comcast as soon as next week and before Thanksgiving. One thing holding it up: we’ve learned that final negotiations for a deal is being closed this weekend to bring in a TV veteran executive from outside for a big top NBCU job. It’s alongside former Showtime entertainment president Bob Greenblatt whose move to NBCU has been one of the worst kept secrets in Hollywood. We also can report that, after some initial uncertainty, Comcast made a firm decision two months ago to keep Universal Studios in the fold and to retain the current management structure as is. As recently as this week, Burke reassured the current brass – Universal Studios President/COO Ron Meyer, who has two more years left on his contract, and Universal Pictures Chairman Adam Fogelson, and Co-Chairman Donna Langley — would all remain in place.
The above confirmed news aside, here is now what we’ve heard from NBCU insiders about what they expect to be the new executive structure, none of which is confirmed because new NBCU boss Steve Burke is notoriously tight-lipped when it comes to speaking to the media or even his employees. Of the top executives on the Comcast side, “it’s safe to say that [Comcast Programming Group President] Jeff Shell stays with the company,” an NBCU insider tells us, noting that he could move to a combined NBC and Comcast sports operation.
As for Ted Harbert, president of the Comcast Entertainment Group that includes E! and Style, some say he will stay put while others believe he will be getting a bigger role in the combined company under Burke. No matter: this is a triumphant homecoming for Ted who was unceremoniously dumped as head of NBC Studios by Jeff Zucker in 2003, and now returns as a bigwig under Burke who unceremoniously dumped Zucker in late September.
NBCU’s organizational restructure announcement is well-timed for Bob Greenblatt who on November 22nd will be honored with the leadership award which usually goes to sitting entertainment brass (Fox TV’s Tony Vinciquerra was the recipient last year) at the annual Beverly Hilton dinner gala for the Saban Free Clinic.
The situation at NBC, insiders tell us, is complicated by the fact that many top execs either have contracts that are breached by the new reporting situation or have not signed new deals. Among those whose contract is breached is Jeff Gaspin, chairman of NBCU TV Entertainment. We hear the new owners are trying to find a new role for him but there are organizational problems. “They really like Jeff Gaspin,” one NBC Uni insider said, “The question is what role he will have. One thing they want to do is eliminate layers,” one top NBCU insider tells us. One possible scenario for Gaspin is putting him in a sports role.Another possibility is a top broadcast operation job similar to the COO of NBCU TV Group post once held by Randy Falco.
The fate of NBC’s primetime entertainment president Angela Bromstad and her development team may rest on Greenblatt’s past M.O.: he didn’t make wholesale changes when he took over Showtime in 2003. Besides, Bromstad and Greenblatt have grown up in the TV biz together. One possible scenario is for her to stay as Greenblatt’s No. 2 or, if Greenblatt decides to split the network and the studio, to head Universal Media Studios, the job she held before Ben Silverman’s arrival at NBC.
That would affect how the turf is divvied up on the cable side between Bonnie Hammer, who now controls the larger NBCU networks USA and Syfy as well as Universal Cable Prods, and Lauren Zalaznick, who oversees Bravo and Oxygen. They may stay put or Zalaznick may add synergistic E! and Style to her portfolio with Hammer adding managerial responsibilities. That’s because Hammer may be put higher in the organizational structure than Zalaznick, who has lobbying for them to be made equal.
Comcast has been pushing to put the new organizational structure in place as soon as it legally could, but has been getting pushback from NBC Uni’s current parent GE because of concern that such an announcement may interfere with day-to-day business before the official close of the merger transaction. GE agreed in December 2009 to give Comcast, the nation’s largest cable television and Internet service provider, a 51% stake in its NBC Universal division. In addition to $6.5 billion in cash, Comcast will merge its cable networks and web assets, valued at $7.25 billion, with NBC Universal. Comcast is proceeding as if federal regulators will approve the deal by the end of this year. But, privately, there is concern that it could take as long as April 2011 because of prolonged delays in FCC scrutiny. The commission keeps asking for more information either because Comcast failed to deliver it or because additional evidence was requested in light of new questions surfacing.