NBC Executive Takes Over as Head of Amazon Studios
Posted February 9, 2018 10:07 p.m. EST
Updated February 9, 2018 10:12 p.m. EST
NBC Entertainment executive Jennifer Salke was named the new head of Amazon Studios on Friday, ending a nearly four-month search that began when Roy Price was ousted after a sexual harassment allegation.
Amazon had been on the hunt for a new executive, placing a strong emphasis on finding a woman, since October. In that time, streaming rivals like Netflix, Hulu and Apple have continued to gobble up television projects.
Amazon has made the occasional splash at the Golden Globes and the Emmys with shows like “Transparent” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” but it has failed to gain the same kind of standing that Netflix and even Hulu have within Hollywood’s creative community.
It will be up to Salke, 53, to essentially hit the reset button.
“What stood out about Jen was the deep relationships she has nurtured with creators and talent over her career,” Jeff Blackburn, Amazon’s senior vice president for business development and entertainment, said in a statement.
A Fox executive, Dana Walden, and an A&E executive, Nancy Dubuc, had discussed the position with Amazon before each dropped out of talks.
“I’m incredibly excited about the future at Amazon Studios,” Salke said in a statement. “In the studio’s relatively short existence they have innovated, disrupted and created characters that are already an indelible part of pop culture. I am both honored and emboldened by the opportunity to lead this extraordinary business.”
For the last seven years, Salke has been second in command at NBC, where she and Robert Greenblatt, chairman of NBC Entertainment, engineered an impressive turnaround.
Greenblatt, who joined NBC in 2010, and Salke, who came on board as president from Fox in 2011, found a network in deep trouble and well past its “Seinfeld,” “ER” and “Friends” heyday.
But now, propelled by “Sunday Night Football” and shows like “This Is Us,” “The Voice” and “Will & Grace,” NBC is poised to win the 18- to 49-year-old demographic among the four broadcast networks for a second consecutive season.
Salke was one of the biggest champions of “This Is Us,” an emotional family drama whose popularity has surprised many industry veterans — as has its ability to sustain that success in its second season. On Sunday, NBC gave “This Is Us” the post-Super Bowl slot, where it garnered an impressive audience of 27 million viewers.
Salke has also helped deploy a strategy that brought NBC’s comedy lineup back to life. After the lineup collapsed when “30 Rock” and “The Office” went off the air, she said the network would develop comedies that weren’t meant to appeal to everybody. NBC has since found traction with offbeat comedies like “The Good Place” and “Superstore.”
“Jennifer Salke is a world-class entertainment executive and deserves enormous credit for helping put NBC back on top,” Greenblatt said in a statement.
But whether her success at helping turn around a broadcast network — which also relies on a healthy diet of Dick Wolf dramas — will translate to a streaming service is an open question.
Amazon has been viewed in Hollywood as something of a sleeping giant, one of the few companies that could match Netflix financially if it deployed its cash properly. Netflix is poised to spend $8 billion on content this year.
But Amazon has had several expensive missteps. “The Last Tycoon,” adapted from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s unfinished novel, debuted to little fanfare and was canceled. Likewise, several comedies, including “One Mississippi,” “Jean-Claude Van Johnson” and “I Love Dick,” have been canceled in the last month.
The streaming service was ready to introduce a revamp — an increased emphasis on shows that would appeal internationally, for instance — when Price was accused of sexual harassment by a producer on one of Amazon’s shows. Price and his No. 2, Joe Lewis, were shown the door shortly after.
One of Amazon’s earliest successes, “Transparent,” has also gotten tripped up in the #MeToo movement. Jeffrey Tambor, the show’s star, has been accused of sexual harassment, and it’s not clear if he will return to the series. Price also invested heavily in Woody Allen, whose career appears to be in jeopardy because of the accusation, first made public more than 25 years ago, that he sexually abused his daughter Dylan. Amazon is considering ending its relationship with Allen.
While Amazon was busy cleaning house, its rivals continued making moves. Apple has begun to buy up TV projects as it prepares to introduce a slate of original programming in the next year or two. Facebook and Google have likewise ramped up efforts to make a splash in the TV industry.
At the same time, Hulu has found real momentum. It is introducing several shows this year, including “The Looming Tower,” a miniseries based on Lawrence Wright’s book about the lead-up to the Sept. 11 attacks, this month and the second season of “The Handmaid’s Tale” in April.
In addition to shows like “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “The Man in the High Castle” and “Bosch,” Salke will inherit one of the most expensive projects in TV history: an adaptation of “The Lord of the Rings” for the small screen. The show does not have a writer or producer attached yet.