Executive producer Ben Silverman’s name may not mean much to you, but if you watch TV you know his work.
I was watching NBC’s “Running Wild with Bear Grylls” last week when I saw the name Ben Silverman for a second. I asked Nicole Nye, vice president of marketing at Olson, if that was the same “Mansome” guy with whom I did a startribune.com/video when Silverman was here to be a keynote speaker at the advertising behemoth’s second annual North By Midwest marketer summit. “Ben is an executive producer,” Nye confirmed.
His other executive producer credits include “Mansome,” “The Office,” “The Tudors,” “Ugly Betty” and “Biggest Loser.” When I chatted with Silverman he was excited to have lined up “The Big Bang Theory” star Mayim Bialik as a co-host of the “Candid Camera” reboot that started airing on TV Land last week. Silverman’s also thrilled about “Jane the Virgin,” scheduled to debut on The CW in October.
I had to exclude my pal Soledad O’Brien, also a keynote speaker, because I wasn’t told the Starfish Media Group founder would be available. “Cold baby. Very, very cold,” wrote @soledadobrien to me on Twitter. O’Brien has other Twin Cities projects about which we can talk later.
Silverman is smooth, and I’m not just talking about his skin. We got into a range of subjects, delving into the incredibly stationary hair of comedian Will Arnett, while the executive producer and I agreed to disagree about who didn’t value whom in the Arnett-Amy Poehler divorce. (I’m TEAM Amy.)
Q: Who’s the biggest executive producer in Hollywood right now?
A: You always have to give credit to the old school guys, who are still playing the game at the top level. People like Jeffrey Katzenberg, Brian Glazer, those are two who stand at the forefront. The guys I aspire to be.
Q: When you were a little boy did you say to yourself “When I grow up, I’m going to be an executive producer”?
A: When I was a little boy I luckily had a momma and dada who loved me so much they would tell me I could be anything I wanted to be and I loved TV and movies. I was a latchkey kid, my parents divorced when I was young, and my mom did not have an issue with me being raised by “I Love Lucy” and “Odd Couple” reruns. It worked to my advantage and I could tell you, even then, that Desi and Lucy produced “I Love Lucy” and Garry Marshall produced “Odd Couple” and Neil Simon wrote it. I was reading the credits and wanted to be in showbiz and a producer, even as a little kid. And I would read different stories about the people who starred in show business and wanted to go that route. Being the son of an avant-garde composer, I also wanted to find a way to make money in the arts, and avant-garde chamber music doesn’t really pay the bills.
Q: So you don’t have a family fortune that you are blowing through?
A: Wish I had a family fortune. If family fortune means getting to pay your sister’s rent and your niece’s schooling, I guess that’s a way to blow a family fortune.
Q: Is there a common thread between “The Office,” “The Tudors,” “Ugly Betty” and “The Biggest Loser”?
A: Absolute common thread. … I have a new show coming out this fall which I am so excited for everybody in Minneapolis-St. Paul to check out, which is called “Jane the Virgin.” My next great show. It’s coming on Oct. 13, on The CW, produced in partnership with my friends at CBS. When I talk about what’s so exciting about “Jane the Virgin,” I talk about it in the context of “The Tudors,” a historical epic for Showtime; “The Office,” an unbelievable single camera comedy I did for NBC; and “Ugly Betty,” which we made for ABC; and “Biggest Loser.” I think the through-line of all those shows is quality. It’s not about a specific genre — one’s a reality show, one’s a comedy, one’s a drama — it’s about the quality level imbued in all of those. As I look at building a career I think consistently about not only quality but the stories I want to tell, I want to watch, and how can you do the best versions of them. What I love about “The Office” is that it reinvigorated the comedy genre in general. What I love about “The Tudors” is that it transformed the ability to tell historical drama. Now every single network has a historical drama. When I put “The Tudors” on, there wasn’t one single historical drama on TV. There wasn’t even a Western being made. When I put “Ugly Betty” on the air it was about the Latino voice, an entire segment of the population that wasn’t represented on television, and her ugliness was not just related to her pigtails and braces but to her immigration struggle, and her father’s, and being somebody who spoke the language in a country that was new to her. With “Biggest Loser” it was the first time you’d seen aspirational positive reality. Every other reality show had been so negative and mean. All those shows have a real consistency of quality and an aspirational, positive, happy vibe to them. You lose yourself when you’re watching them.
Q: Who plays Jane?