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NBC's studio to break in two

March 24, 2008 |  2:10 pm

Bonniehammer1 At a time when other media companies are consolidating their operations to save money, NBC Universal is breaking its large television studio into two separate businesses, according to NBC executives familiar with the situation.

NBC’s Los Angeles-based production unit, Universal Media Studios, has been responsible for such shows as the "Law & Order" franchise, "Heroes," "House" and "Battlestar Galactica." As part of the split, the existing studio will continue to support shows for broadcast networks and largely concentrate on struggling NBC.

The second studio, which will be managed by USA Network and Sci Fi Channel President Bonnie Hammer (pictured), will focus on producing programs for NBC’s profitable cable channels.

Universal Media Studios produces about 20 shows, including seven that air on USA and Sci Fi.

The move is a huge vote of confidence and an expansion of duties for Hammer, a popular and valuable executive who has been in negotiations with top executives to renew her employment contract, which expires later this year.

Executives said that NBC Universal Chief Executive Jeff Zucker facilitated the move, in large part, to keep Hammer at NBC Universal.

The switch also represents a shrinking of turf for two powerful executives who, for the last nine months, have been running the NBC television network and production studio: co-chairmen Ben Silverman and Marc Graboff. It also means that the role of Katherine Pope, a rising star in the television industry, who became president of Universal Media Studios last summer, has been significantly reduced.

The cleaving of the television studio is unusual because it comes just four years after NBC inherited it, as part of its merger of entertainment properties with Vivendi Universal. Until then, NBC did not have a full-fledged television studio. The deal also allowed the network to reap syndication profits from such big hits as "Law & Order."

But, according to two NBC executives, continued turmoil within NBC Entertainment helped to prompt the decision to break the studio into two pieces. Turning around the network’s fortunes has been consuming the energy of the network and studio executives.

The switch also reinforces that the cable division has become the new star of the NBC Universal empire, further overshadowing the NBC broadcast network, which just a few years ago was the industry leader.

-- Meg James

Photo: Stephen Osman / Los Angeles Times