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The Insurgents

Ben Silverman’s new reality turns brands into great entertainment

By Noreen O'Leary

Photos by Mitchell Haaseth

There are at least two things the TV-watching public can blame Ben Silverman for: an excess of reality shows and the in-your-face product placements that dominate programs like 30 Rock. Yet both are integral to the success of his new venture, Electus, which in its first full year has done a number of high-profile deals that aim to unite content creators, producers, distributors and advertisers in innovative ways.

“As a history buff and extensive traveler luckily still in the ‘demo,’ I try and anticipate and build trends to drive tipping points,” says Silverman, the former head of NBC’s entertainment division. “I like to change it up and integrate all of these learnings: From my work bringing back the single-camera comedy and mockumentary style after seeing the oversaturation of reality—for which I’m partly to blame—to the creation of The Tudors when everyone had turned their back on the historical drama genre, to business models from format distribution to digital content and programming with advertiser insight. The best is the combination of the avant garde and the accessible.”

For Wrigley, Electus partnered with DumbDumb—the ad production company formed by actors Jason Bateman and Will Arnett—to create a suite of star-studded, comedic viral shorts. For Subway, the company—which is backed by Barry Diller’s IAC—designed a crowdsourced Facebook contest focused on searching for “high-school heroes.” And for State Farm, Silverman, who is Electus’s founder and CEO, and his team paired up with Yahoo Music to create the “Ready, Set, Dance!” campaign, which aimed to connect the insurance company with a young adult audience. Working with AOL, last month Electus launched a Web-exclusive morning show called AOL Daybreak. In addition, Electus has had a number of more traditional deals with broadcast networks and cable channels for new reality and scripted shows.

Advertisers have always been a part of Silverman’s creative process. In 2003, The Restaurant, a reality show with chef Rocco DiSpirito, and the first program from Silverman’s former production company, Reveille—was backed by American Express, which had prominent product placement on the program. At NBC, he pushed for more aggressive use of such advertising (remember the short-lived Knight Rider reboot, which was developed in part with Ford?). Now, as the 30-second spot faces obsolescence, he’ll ramp up those efforts at Electus.

“We bring marketers right into the center of our conversations,” he says. “We share with them at all levels of the process and many times build directly for them based on a given initiative.”

That’s a fairly staid comment from the former network head perhaps best known for his outspoken remarks about competitors, parties with dancing bikini-clad girls (not to mention a caged tiger) and famous BFFs like Ryan Seacrest, who first broke the news of Silverman’s NBC exit on Twitter.

But Silverman, who as a kid famously told his cable exec mother, Mary Silverman, that he wanted to one day program NBC, may be settling down as he returns to his entrepreneur roots. In August he turned 40 and, just last week, Silverman married girlfriend Jennifer Cuoco in Jerusalem, with his award-winning music composer father, Stanley Silverman, as his best man.

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