Rarely has a high-level execution job been announced on high-end TV.
When NBCUniversal pulled the trigger for a massive reorganization of its television business last week, the company made it clear that a key position in the new structure had not yet been filled – a new head of entertainment programming who will oversee decisions creative for NBC, cable channels including US and Bravo, and new Peacock streaming service. A version of this role had, as variety reported prior to the start of the reshuffle, had been offered to Netflix’s local-language source of origin, Bela Bajaria, who turned it down.
But when the job opening was effectively posted on Thursday, speculation immediately began to falter over who might lower the role.
The inner name that appears most often is that of Pearlena Igbokwe, president of Universal Television. A highly regarded executive, Igbokwe runs a studio that has produced numerous series for external broadcasters, most recently “Little America”; for Apple TV Plus, “Four Weddings and a Funeral” for Hulu, and “Doll Doll” for Netflix . Igbokwe also previously served as head of drama development at NBC, so she understands the internal work of the broadcast network still valuable.
But sources at NBCUniversal have shaken up rumors of Igbokwe’s rise. One reason is that the execution could be in line with another job – succeeding its boss Bonnie Hammer, who oversees both UTV and Universal Content Productions, if Hammer is to retire at the end of her contract next year.
Another name that is now circulating is that of Kevin Reilly, who just last week was promoted as content chairman for HBO Max and Turner Cable Networks. Reilly’s hiring will do nothing to immediately improve NBCUniversal’s top-level diversity following the appearance of NBC Entertainment chairman Paul Telegdy amid allegations of racist, sexist and homophobic behavior. But as a veteran executor on TV, Reilly served as a previous hurdle as programming president for Fox and NBC, and his recent run with Max, though short, gives him insight into developing content for broadcast. Reilly reportedly met with NBCU officials about the work prior to his departure from WarnerMedia.
Susan Rovner, president of Bros. Television. Warner, is also believed to have approached for the role. Rovner’s name gets mixed up in the massive WarnerMedia restructuring that is affecting Warner Bros. and his heavy-duty television operations. Channing Dungey, VP with original content on Netflix and former president of ABC Entertainment, is also said to be the subject of interest from NBCU. But while Dungey, known and respected in the creative community in Hollywood, has often been at the top of employers’ wish lists, it is unclear whether she can be tempted to leave Netflix, which has eroded the recession fueled by pandemic better than almost any pure media company.
Other executives are believed to be under consideration as well. No decision has yet been made on what will fill the vacancy. An NBCU spokesman declined to comment.
One factor that may hinder NBCU as it tries to place itself in a top-level candidate is the way in which the search is poured into the public eye. The news that Bajaria fired the job means that anyone who accepts it will know it was not the company’s first choice. And in announcing the restructuring, NBCUniversal assigned many senior cable and broadcasting tasks – including expenses and twisting – to Frances Berwick, who was appointed chairman of a fledgling entertainment business unit.
Anyone who finishes programming work will need to be comfortable sharing authority with Berwick, a cable veteran whose programming strengths lie in the unwritten. But in the current environment, with workplace security wherever it is challenged as media companies run, this may not be a bad prospect.
–Joe Otterson and Michael Schneider contributed to this report.