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Comcast's Burke taps two veteran programmers to lead the NBC network

Robert Greenblatt was recently head of programming at Showtime. Ted Harbert runs Comcast's Los Angeles-based channels and is expected to be offered responsibility for the network's business side.

November 13, 2010|By Meg James, Los Angeles Times

Comcast Corp.'s Steve Burke is putting the finishing touches on his management team to take over NBC Universal and has tapped two veteran programmers — Robert Greenblatt and Ted Harbert — to lead the troubled NBC broadcast network.

Greenblatt, 50, the recently departed head of programming at Showtime, is credited with turning around the perennial also-ran by using a gallery of morally twisted characters in shows such as "Weeds" and "Dexter." He left the premium channel in July when his contract ended.

Harbert, who runs Comcast's Los Angeles-based channels including E!, is expected to be offered responsibility for the business side of the network, including advertising sales and affiliate relations, according to people familiar with the plan. Harbert, 55, was an ABC programming executive during the 1990s and ran NBC's television production studio for several years before joining Comcast in 2004.

Under Harbert, E! has bolstered its programming with the reality series "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" and the talk show "Chelsea Lately" starring Chelsea Handler, whom Harbert dated. Harbert became the leading candidate for the job in the last three weeks, after conversations with former CBS executive Nancy Tellem fell apart. Tellem wasn't interested in the position unless she could oversee programming.

Comcast, NBC, Harbert and Greenblatt declined to comment.

Burke — who is Comcast's chief operating officer and will become chief executive of NBC Universal when the cable giant takes over the entertainment company — plans to travel to Los Angeles next week to announce the new NBC executive team. Comcast is awaiting the approval of federal regulators for its merger with NBC Universal. The deal is expected to close in December or early next year.

Burke has been assembling his executive team for several months. In September he told NBC Universal Chief Executive Jeff Zucker that there would be no room for him in the new organization, prompting Zucker to announce that he would depart when Comcast takes over.

The bulk of Burke's executive team is largely drawn from NBC's current roster. NBC Universal cable executives Bonnie Hammer and Lauren Zalaznick are to retain their current portfolios, although Hammer will also oversee the popular E! channel. Universal Studios President Ron Meyer, NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol and NBC News President Steve Capus will retain their turf as well.

Patricia Fili-Krushel, executive vice president of administration at Time Warner Inc. and a former president of the ABC network, is expected to be named chief administrative officer. Jeff Shell, Comcast's current chief of cable channels, would assume responsibilities for NBC Universal's international operations. Matt Bond, Comcast's head of content acquisition, will oversee distribution of NBC Universal's channels.

Burke discussed a new position for NBC Universal's current head of television, Jeff Gaspin, but any role appears to involve a significant reduction in his duties, according to people close to the situation. Gaspin, who took over programming for the NBC network in July 2009, is expected to decide next week whether to take a new role or leave the company.

meg.james@latimes.com

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