Monday, May 28, 2007

Reilly expected to resign as head of NBC Entertainment Entertainment President Kevin Reilly

By Meg James
Times Staff Writer

6:01 PM PDT, May 27, 2007

In a move that could be destabilizing to NBC Universal amid the all-important advertising sales season, the network's head of prime-time programming is expected to step down as early as this week, according to three people close to the situation.

NBC Universal top executives were negotiating with NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly on Sunday to terminate his three-year contract, which he signed in March, said company insiders who asked not to be named because the situation is fluid.

The management shake-up comes after months of rising tensions between Reilly and his New York bosses. NBC finished the season last week in fourth place in the prime-time ratings, a disappointment for the one-time leader.

NBC's schedule has brightened somewhat under Reilly, with popular shows such as "Heroes," "My Name is Earl," and "The Office."

Nonetheless, the network fell further behind Fox, CBS and ABC after the football season ended, which had buoyed NBC's ratings in the fourth quarter.

The friction came to a head last week when Reilly learned that NBC Universal Chief Jeff Zucker was interviewing potential candidates to take over network programming, said two people close to the talks.

Reilly asked to be let out of his contract, prompting the Memorial Day weekend negotiations.

It is unclear whether NBC has struck an agreement with any of the candidates to replace Reilly. One network official said the network has had preliminary conversations with Ben Silverman, the fast-rising producer behind "The Office," and ABC's popular "Ugly Betty."

The management upheaval comes at an inopportune time for the network. Two weeks ago, Reilly unveiled NBC's new fall lineup to advertisers in New York. Networks such as NBC sell about 80% of their inventory between Memorial Day and Independence Day, a period known as the "upfront" season.

A shake-up, which also could be a sign of management instability, comes four months into Zucker's rein as head of the media conglomerate.

Neither Reilly nor NBC would comment Sunday. One person close to the matter said the situation should be finalized by Tuesday.