When a network head sits for his corporate portrait, it’s normally a tedious exercise: a balding guy in a drab suit and serious tie posing awkwardly for 10 minutes before he’s got to be somewhere—anywhere—else. But Ben Silverman is not your typical television executive. Five days into his new job as cochair of NBC Entertainment, the 37-year-old agent-turned-producer-turned-broadcast boss is not ashamed to be standing in his drawers (washboard abs proudly displayed) on the set of his NBC photo shoot. Following the photographer’s directives—“Lean forward! That’s cool!”—Silverman, after changing into a charcoal suit sans tie, ends up contorted into a coy little ball, his chin resting on his knees. Suddenly a cell phone begins to bleat, its ring tone a refrain from one-hit rapper Mims: “This is why I’m hot. This is why I’m hot.” The crew members eye each other nervously—Who forgot to silence his phone?—until Silverman languidly slips out of his kitten pose and answers his mobile.
“I am the perfect storm for making a television executive,” Silverman says with typical self-confidence.
Roll your eyes if you must, but this is what Hollywood success looks like today. Ratings are what players like Silverman get paid for—not gravitas or modesty. Even so, when NBC tapped Silverman to be its cochairman (he shares the title with Marc Graboff, a buttoned-down veteran of the network’s business operations), many in the TV business were surprised to see an open-collared, Jaguar XKR–driving, party-hopping producer ascend to one of the industry’s most powerful posts. Silverman, however, is quite confident that he’s up to the task. “I think I am the audience, you know what I mean? I viscerally respond. I am conceptual and a dealmaker,” he says, sitting in his new office at NBC. (The place is undecorated but overflowing with congratulatory gifts that include a T-shirt declaring i’m a genius!) “Those are things that usually don’t all come in the same package. I am the perfect storm for making a television executive.”
Some would argue that it will take a perfect storm to land NBC back on top. The network, after all, is in a serious funk, having finished last in prime-time ratings for the third year in a row. But if nothing else, the appointment has people talking about the peacock again—well, at least gossiping. During the three-week interim between the announcement of Silverman’s hiring and his first day on the job, a story began circulating that the delay was due to GE’s corporate drug-testing policy. The party boy, it was said, needed time to get the marijuana out of his system. Silverman denies the rumor, but only to a point. “No, no, no. I did not quit smoking pot to take this job,” he says. “I’m still single, and I go out with my friends, but it was a nonissue for me. I think it blew out of proportion because I have nice Lucien [Pellat-Finet] sweaters with pot-leaf embroidery and I have some hemp sneakers. The day my deal was done, I said, ‘I want to get this freakin’ piss test out of the way.’ All these people are, like, accusing me of s---.”