NBCUniversal taps Susan Rovner for top programming job
NBCUniversal has narrowed its search for a top TV programmer to Susan Rovner, a longtime Warner Bros. studio executive.
The media company, owned by Comcast Corp., is in advanced negotiations with Rovner to oversee a vast portfolio that includes programming for the NBC broadcast network, cable channels including Bravo, E!, Syfy and USA, as well as the recently launched Peacock streaming service, according to two people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified because the deal has not been finalized. An agreement is expected to be completed and announced as early as this week.
With last month’s ouster of Paul Telegdy, the former NBC entertainment chairman, NBCUniversal announced it would hunt for a leader to oversee programming for the NBC broadcast network as well as its collection of cable channels. The move is part of a corporate streamlining, initiated by NBCUniversal Chief Executive Jeff Shell, to respond to the economic realities of the streaming era and tear down walls that previously had separated the two TV groups.
Rovner would report to Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBCUniversal Television and Streaming.
Rovner is a proven and respected leader with strong relationships in Hollywood. She has been a key executive within the prolific Warner Bros. studio since 1998, helping shepherd such hits as “Gossip Girl,” “The O.C.,” “Everwood,” “Rizzoli & Isles,” “Pretty Little Liars” and more recently “Riverdale,” “Shameless” and “Westworld” for HBO.
Her departure from Warner Bros. comes amid a consolidation and cost-cutting at the studio’s parent, WarnerMedia. Last month, the company laid off nearly 600 people.
The belt-tightening comes two years after telecommunications company AT&T spent $85 billion to acquire Time Warner, changing its name to WarnerMedia. There has been an exodus of entertainment executives ever since. Just last month, WarnerMedia Chief Executive Jason Kilar stunned the industry with a dramatic reshuffling, sweeping out veteran programmers Bob Greenblatt and Kevin Reilly and several top business executives. That shakeup came two and a half months after the disappointing launch of its streaming service, HBO Max.
Rovner remained a key part of the Burbank studio’s executive team, and her exit will be a blow. Last year, Warner Bros. TV studio chief Peter Roth promoted Rovner to co-lead Warner Bros. Television’s primetime programming production unit alongside fellow executive Brett Paul.
Rovner and Paul were responsible for more than 60 original series and were credited with helping spearhead the expansion of Warner Bros’ studio business into streaming and maintaining high-profile deals with such prominent producers as Chuck Lorre, Greg Berlanti, Ava DuVernay and Mindy Kaling.
Many viewed Rovner as the eventual successor to Roth, who has led the studio for two decades.
WarnerMedia and other legacy media companies have struggled to adapt to consumer changes and compete with Netflix, Hulu and Amazon. Cash-cow cable channels have lost millions of viewers amid the acceleration of cable cord cutting. Media companies are trying to strike a balance between cranking out expensive scripted productions for their cable outlets, such as NBCUniversal’s USA and WarnerMedia’s TNT and TBS, and devoting more resources to producing originals for their streaming services.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to a shutdown in TV production and a decline in advertising revenue, has exacerbated the dilemma.
At the same time, the competition for talent has been intensifying as media companies jostle for attention with their recently launched streaming services — Disney+, HBO Max and NBCUniversal’s Peacock. Some of the industry’s most successful producers have been lured to Netflix, which has dangled lucrative production deals.
Programmers at NBCUniversal, Walt Disney Co., ViacomCBS and WarnerMedia have struggled to keep big-name producers in the fold and recruit new star writers to fill their primetime schedules.
Senior executives are in high demand too. Netflix has been waging a court battle with Fox and Viacom over alleged poaching of executives as the Los Gatos-based streaming giant built up its operations. Netflix recently appealed a decision that found against it in its fight with Fox and has highlighted a growing arms race for talent in Hollywood.
NBCUniversal has spent several months fine-tuning its organizational structure after Shell took the top job in January.
Shell has been under pressure to elevate women and people of color amid a cultural reckoning. Last month, NBCUniversal elevated veteran programmer Frances Berwick, the longtime Bravo head. She is now in charge of all strategic and business elements of NBC as well as the entertainment cable channels. The company also is expected to find a prominent role for another rising star, Pearlena Igbokwe, head of the Universal Television studio.
NBCUniversal and Warner Bros. declined to comment Monday.
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