Bela Bajaria, president of Universal Television, has abruptly exited her position running NBCUniversal’s television studio, becoming one of the first casualties of the just-ended TV pilot season.
Bajaria is widely credited for re-energizing a once-moribund operation that boasted few show creators beyond Dick Wolf, who has long been the biggest star in of the Universal Television universe.
But her departure, orchestrated by NBC Entertainment Chairman Robert Greenblatt, followed tensions with Greenblatt and his underlings who run the NBC television network, according to two people familiar with the situation. Greenblatt was said to be unhappy that many of Universal’s shows run on other networks, such as Fox Broadcasting, A&E and CBS as well as the streaming services Netflix and Hulu.
In addition, NBC’s most highly anticipated drama for the new season, “This is Us,” comes from 20th Century Fox — not Universal Television.
Some felt that Bajaria should have strived to develop more programming specifically for NBC, which is in need of scripted hits to bolster its schedule, according to two people familiar with the situation who asked not to be identified.
She was just shy of her fifth anniversary overseeing programming at Universal Television, which produces such hits as “The Mindy Project,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” “Shades of Blue,” “Bates Motel,” “Master of None,” Dick Wolf’s “Chicago Fire” and the “Chicago Med” franchise.
“I want to thank Bela personally for building a strong team and working so effectively to establish Universal Television as a competitive company that produces high-quality scripted series for broadcast networks as well as cable and streaming services,” Greenblatt said Tuesday in a statement distributed by NBC.
“We all wish her the very best as she takes on the next phase of her career,” he said.
Earlier this month, Universal TV sold a high-profile drama to CBS called “Pure Genius,” starring Dermot Mulroney. The upcoming series is from executive director Jason Katims (“Parenthood,” “Friday Night Lights”), who has long been one of NBC’s top showrunners.
Bajaria was popular with the talent who worked with her.
But there was resentment within NBC that the network’s sister studio seemed too focused on selling shows to other networks. Another point of friction was Bajaria’s tussles with Jennifer Salke, who is president of NBC Entertainment, and Greenblatt’s chief lieutenant.
However, it is not uncommon for studio chiefs and network executives to clash because their separate businesses often have opposing agendas.
Tuesday’s announcement was unexpected, coming less than two weeks after new fall TV schedules were unveiled in New York.
Bajaria was unavailable for comment. Before joining NBCUniversal, she was a longtime CBS executive. A year ago, Bajaria was promoted to the top post at the studio and she reportedly had two years left on her contract.
Pearlena Igbokwe, NBC’s head of drama development, is on the short list to replace Bajaria, according to a knowledgeable person. She helped develop some of NBC’s most recent successes, including “Blacklist” and “Blindspot.”
Igbokwe is a veteran of Showtime, where Greenblatt achieved much success before joining NBC five years ago after Comcast Corp. bought the media company.
This story was originally published at 7:32 p.m.
3: 15 p.m.: This story was updated throughout.