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Lessons from TV history: Silverman on the shows that shaped the business

Silverman has a clear grasp of the history of TV, perhaps because his mother was in the business, working for Disney and USA Network among others. He has often talked about his admiration for Brandon Tartikoff, the TV exec who turned around NBC’s fortune in the 1980s (a trick that Silverman was not able to repeat in his stint as NBC co-chairman between 2007 and 2009).

Silverman executive produced The Tudors

He clearly sees the link between what’s on screen today and what has gone before. “It’s a time of innovation and a tremendous amount of accelerated pace that we are living in, we are now living not in geometric times, but exponential times and you can see how the speed of technology impacts ideas today, but a lot of this is from the past,” he says. “Shows like Texaco Theatre, Show of Shows and Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin. They all had live elements and social conversations and deep advertiser relationships and that is something that you can see repeated today with new technologies and platforms.”

Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin hosted The Colgate Comedy Hour and Silverman also references Procter & Gamble, the manufacturer of various consumer products that created the first soap operas and both have clearly informed his mission at Electus, which is keen to unite brands with content.

“I think the subsequent period of television that really influenced me was the early 1970s when social consciousness got married to storytelling with shows like M*A*S*H,” Silverman continues. “I remind myself of that and it has influenced me to do positive shows like The Biggest Loser. Other modern shows that really delivered on that idea of social consciousness and storytelling were Ugly Betty, The Office and and my reality show with Morgan Spurlock 30 Days.”

Reveille, Shine and Electus are all strong in unscripted programming, notably competition-type shows. Silverman says the reality genre has moved on in a positive way in recent times with shows now focused on positivity and talent rather than being mean.

“It’s the difference between Simon Cowell’s Idol and Cee Lo Green and Christina Aguilera on The Voice,” says Silverman. “When we did Biggest Loser there was a plastic surgery show on another channel and we wanted to do something different to that. But it can’t feel like homework or eating spinach, it needs some garlic, some flavouring, some colour to it and there are various ways of giving it that edge. It could even be in the name, as with ‘The Biggest Loser’.”

The Electus boss says that he agrees with current thinking that we are in a golden era of scripted programming and takes some credit for sparking the renewed interest in period drama.

“I think The Tudors was another door that I bashed open. I saw that there was no period pieces on television, not even on [PBS drama slot] Masterpiece, which now shows Downtown Abbey. No-one was doing period and I thought there was a way of taking that storytelling power and using it for a modern audience.”

Silverman has a clear grasp of the history of TV, perhaps because his mother was in the business, working for Disney and USA Network among others. He has often talked about his admiration for Brandon Tartikoff, the TV exec who turned around NBC’s fortune in the 1980s (a trick that Silverman was not able to repeat in his stint as NBC co-chairman between 2007 and 2009).

He clearly sees the link between what’s on screen today and what has gone before. “It’s a time of innovation and a tremendous amount of accelerated pace that we are living in, we are now living not in geometric times, but exponential times and you can see how the speed of technology impacts ideas today, but a lot of this is from the past,” he says. “Shows like Texaco Theatre, Show of Shows and Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin. They all had live elements and social conversations and deep advertiser relationships and that is something that you can see repeated today with new technologies and platforms.”

Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin hosted The Colgate Comedy Hour and Silverman also references Procter & Gamble, the manufacturer of various consumer products that created the first soap operas and both have clearly informed his mission at Electus, which is keen to unite brands with content.

“I think the subsequent period of television that really influenced me was the early 1970s when social consciousness got married to storytelling with shows like M*A*S*H,” Silverman continues. “I remind myself of that and it has influenced me to do positive shows like The Biggest Loser. Other modern shows that really delivered on that idea of social consciousness and storytelling were Ugly Betty, The Office and and my reality show with Morgan Spurlock 30 Days.”

Reveille, Shine and Electus are all strong in unscripted programming, notably competition-type shows. Silverman says the reality genre has moved on in a positive way in recent times with shows now focused on positivity and talent rather than being mean.

“It’s the difference between Simon Cowell’s Idol and Cee Lo Green and Christina Aguilera on The Voice,” says Silverman. “When we did Biggest Loser there was a plastic surgery show on another channel and we wanted to do something different to that. But it can’t feel like homework or eating spinach, it needs some garlic, some flavouring, some colour to it and there are various ways of giving it that edge. It could even be in the name, as with ‘The Biggest Loser’.”

The Electus boss says that he agrees with current thinking that we are in a golden era of scripted programming and takes some credit for sparking the renewed interest in period drama.

“I think The Tudors was another door that I bashed open. I saw that there was no period pieces on television, not even on [PBS drama slot] Masterpiece, which now shows Downtown Abbey. No-one was doing period and I thought there was a way of taking that storytelling power and using it for a modern audience.”