pop culture's bravest

Year in Review: Without Ben Silverman There Is No Television

Photo illustration by Everett Bogue. Photos: Getty Images (Silverman); iStockphoto (TV)

From now until the end of the year, Vulture will celebrate the people who made 2007 what it was: Pop Culture’s Bravest.

Gleaming, tanned wunderkind Ben Silverman burst on the scene this summer with his sudden ascension to the throne at NBC Entertainment, replacing his “friend” Kevin Reilly over Memorial Day weekend amid much he-said, he-said drama. Within weeks, he made the move that instantly convinced us he was both the savior and the destroyer of television: Sin Tetas No Hay Paraiso, the Colombian telenovela repurposed for American audiences, the story of a poor girl from the wrong side of the tracks who’s convinced that breast implants are her ticket to a better life. Its perfect English-language title, like a beautiful song you croon to your sweetheart under a silver moon: Without Breasts There Is No Paradise.

Soon we were obsessed enough with Silverman to make him our test case while playing with the Simpsons Character Generator. Silverman proved our faith in him right, showing himself again and again to be the kind of visionary who isn’t afraid to burn television down in order to save it. From declaring his Times profiler Bill Carter a “dear friend” to consummating his brief courtship with Isaiah Washington over a cake depicting Silverman as the NBC peacock clutching other networks’ logos in his talons to declaring outright war on ABC’s Steve McPherson, Silverman wasn’t afraid of making big, attention-getting moves.

But who is Ben Silverman, really? He’s anyone you want him to be. He’s an environmentalist. He’s a closet nerd. He’s a budding politician. He’s the basis for B.J. Novak’s character on The Office. He’s a man so complex he can describe a show as “part MacGyver, part contemporary morality tale about race and personal discovery, part comedy, and part Cast Away meets Survivor,” without, presumably, breaking a sweat.

By the end of the year, things weren’t looking quite so wonderful for Ben Silverman. He was embarrassed by an Esquire interview in which he called other network heads “D-girls” and challenged them to a game of Trivial Pursuit. NBC’s performance has been so awful that he’s had to refund money to advertisers. (Although reportedly other networks have followed suit.) Silverman’s first high-profile brainchild on NBC’s schedule, Clash of the Choirs, tanked in its opening. But such is Silverman’s chutzpa that even when he exploits his own conflicts of interest to make himself millions of dollars, he does it with style.

Deep inside, we wish we were Ben Silverman. We wish we had the enormous self-confidence, the brazen shamelessness, the sixteen genetically modified Technicolor peacocks. Most of all, we wish we had his gleaming, Joker-like smile. Whether his reinvention of NBC is a splashy, exciting success or a splashy, exciting failure, his is the grinning face of a new brand of ferociously enthusiastic leader. Twenty years from now, we fully expect to be taking orders from Supreme Dictator Silverman as he leads America to its glorious new future.

Photo: iStockphoto

Year in Review: Without Ben Silverman There Is No Television