Dick Ebsersol's exit from NBC sends signal to rest of company
The abrupt departure of Dick Ebersol as chairman of NBC Sports Group last Thursday sent shockwaves through the network and the media industry.
It also sent a not-so-subtle message to other top NBCUniversal executives: Get with the program or hit the road.
Almost from the day Comcast closed on NBC Universal, media watchers were wondering how the cable giant would adjust to some of the bigger personalities it was inheriting. Although Comcast is no stranger to entertainment -- it owns the cable network E!, which means it's in business with the Kardashians -- it prefers that the executives who run the company keep low profiles and let the work speak for itself.
Ebersol, who has been associated with NBC for almost 40 years and whose influence extended far beyond the world of sports, is anything but low profile. He was not shy about voicing his opinions on topics other than sports rights fees and Olympic ratings. He played a key role in persuading NBC brass that Conan O'Brien wasn't going to work out as Jay Leno's successor, and he enjoyed very friendly relationships with much of the media.
One reason Ebersol had so much pull at NBC was that he mentored many who rose to the top of the network, including former Chief Executive Jeff Zucker, who got his start working for Ebersol as a researcher.
Ebersol's new Comcast bosses did not have that history and viewed him as something of a know-it-all. Although his prowess as a producer was not questioned, his willingness to be a team player was.
Ebersol was not the only high-profile NBC executive. "Saturday Night Live" executive producer Lorne Michaels was recently the subject of a fawning cover story in the Hollywood Reporter, although some consider Michaels more creative talent than an executive. Lauren Zalaznick, who oversees Bravo, Oxygen and Telemundo, once made the cover of the New York Times Magazine. It will be interesting to see what adjustments NBC executives make to fit into the culture Comcast is trying to foster.
Comcast is not without its own flashy executives. Ted Harbert, who had been running E! for Comcast and now is president of NBC Broadcasting, used to date late-night host Chelsea Handler. Of course, no one is suggesting that Comcast meddles in the private lives of its executives. And the plus side to that relationship is that Harbert can offer notes on NBC's new Handler-inspired sitcom "Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea."
-- Joe Flint
Photo: Dick Ebersol. Credit: Stephen Lovekin / Getty Images