Key NBC executive Marc Graboff to leave the network
The move was not a complete surprise because Graboff's role gradually had been diminishing in recent years, particularly after the takeover of NBCUniversal by cable giant Comcast Corp. in January. His departure will continue a dramatic makeover of NBC Entertainment's management under Comcast.
An NBC spokesman confirmed Graboff's exit, saying, "His departure is absolutely amicable. Since the transition is now complete, Marc wants to pursue the next phase of his career, which will not include working for a television network." Graboff did not return calls to his office.
The lawyer who served more than 11 years as the point person for NBC's dealings with producers, writers and talent agents -- had nearly two years remaining on his contract.
Graboff had signed a new three-year contract in August 2010, a few months before Comcast took control. Many had expected the executive to stick around to help the new regime navigate NBC's web of complicated relationships with talent.
Although well liked in Hollywood, Graboff was not universally loved within NBC. For one, he alienated Bonnie Hammer, the influential chairman of NBC Cable Entertainment and Cable Studios. The two executives clashed over business priorities for the company.
Graboff has held key jobs in the TV industry for more than 14 years. Early in his career, he worked as an assistant to former top talent agent Ron Meyer, now president of Universal Studios. He joined NBC from CBS in 2000, just as former NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Zucker was taking over NBC's entertainment division in Burbank.
At NBC, Graboff became Zucker's go-to guy, negotiating key deals, including keeping the cast of "Friends" on the show for two years longer than planned. Because of Graboff's affable personality, Zucker often relied on him to be NBC's business ambassador and deal with prickly personalities.
In 2007, when Zucker hired Ben Silverman to be NBC's chief programmer, he elevated Graboff to the job of chairman of NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios. Graboff was positioned as Silverman's equal in stature and authority as both were charged with overseeing the network as well as NBC's in-house production studio. However, the arrangement became an unmitigated disaster.
The free-spirited Silverman quickly anointed himself the "rock star entertainment chairman," missed meetings, publicly bragged about his penchant for partying. He also lobbied for NBC to buy projects produced by his independent studio Reveille.
Graboff's job devolved into one of chief babysitter and referee. He unsuccessfully pushed back against NBC's purchase of about a dozen of Reveille's projects. He had to soothe hard feelings when Silverman ruffled feathers of key agents and producers. Graboff also attempted to be the peacemaker amid warring factions within NBC. Silverman left the company in 2009 without fielding a hit.
NBC continues to struggle to find new hits and lags in the ratings. "Sunday Night Football" is the only NBC program that consistently ranks among the Nielsen Co.'s top 20 TV shows.
-- Meg James
Photo: Marc Graboff. Credit: Mitch Haaseth / NBCUniversal