Must "ESP" TV?
Maybe. But can NBC increase its viewership by having an Israeli mentalist turning the remote on to its network without viewers even having to bother?
Ben Silverman laughs at the very thought. Think of a number from 1 to 10 -- better yet, make it an audience share of 15.
But then, as a primed prime-time programmer/producer, he's known to be able to read people's minds -- so successful has he been bringing "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," "Queer as Folk," "The Office," "Blow Out" and "Ugly Betty" to pretty up American TV screens that nailing Israeli Uri Geller the nail bender for a series may be the abracadabra of an ablution NBC needs after being awash in years of last-place ratings.
Bend it like Beckham? Bend it like Geller!
Phenomenal ... No, "Phenomenon," says Silverman, newly named co-chairman -- with Marc Graboff -- of NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios, of the show's title. But he may as well be speaking about his own ascent from William Morris talent agent to one of the most sought-after programming talents in the business.
Nobody's singing taps for Reveille, the still in-demand independent production company he founded that's been a real player in reality TV, often adapting foreign television shows to the American screen. It's still very much in business, even though, based on his new status, he won't be at the controls.
What he's got his hands on now is, hands down, one of the more challenging control buttons of all, a joystick without a happy smile the last few years. Can Silverman help turn around a network that once turned on so many more millions of viewers than it does now?
Silverman as silver lining for the network's fall lineup? He's done his homework. And for that, in a way, Silverman had only to turn to his own home and work to see the ABC's of the business. (Well, his "Ugly Betty" is on that other network.)
Mom is Mary D. Silverman, who gave out the gold stars and the gilded experience -- a revered TV exec long wired into the cable world, where her stints have included major positions at Court TV and USA Network.
Now, Benny, turn off the TV and do your homework -- read those TV scripts! As his mother once recalled for a reporter, "I had to watch everything, read everything and know what was going on, and Ben had a mind for culture, particularly popular culture.
"At 7 or 8, he was interested in the business aspect of television, and he was fun to talk to about all this. He'd watch things [on TV] with me and critique them in the same kind of way I was watching them."
Watch out -- the kid's a comer. And he's come quite a long way since earning his bachelor's from Tufts U., where he was magna cum laud-ed for his work as a history major.
So how did this self-described "nice Jewish boy" build such a history of wins with so few losses? A track record that could help him hurdle current obstacles?
Just how did the brains behind "The Biggest Loser" manage to become the biggest winner?
Pound for Pound a Champ
He weighs in; Silverman is a Nielsen number to contend with. It becomes apparent that what he brings to his new parent company is a farsight so far from the hum and the drum that serve as network serenades these days.
He chimes in -- and not just because he's apt to carry a mini-xylophone around to take note of the network's three-note harmony. Jet-setter operating on a different plane. Make it Lear jetter: Silverman's just asked pioneer Norman Lear to be all in the NBC family in future endeavors, bringing back to TV one of the medium's most accomplished and searing seers.
And as far as going mental: "We're looking for the next great mind-blower, the next great mentalist; we are going to be playing with interactivity," allows Silverman, 37, the newly deemed golden boychick of broadcasting, talking about the Geller gig, which also will display the mystique of "mystifier" Criss Angel.
Angel in his outfield, Geller in the dugout: "This is a show that was a hit in Israel," where it was called "The Successor."
But will it succeed here?
"Let me tell you something. I have more e-mails from Uri going, 'I feel you will do well today.' I go, 'Uri, do we need e-mail? Shouldn't we just be talking without e-mail?' "
Mental telepathy from Tel Aviv? It's all about pushing the envelope -- without the envelope.
Back to business as Silverman chats up "Backyards in Bullets," which goes gunning for suburbia with director Charles McDougall, whose work includes helming "The Office" and the "Desperate Housewives" pilot; a return of a revised "The Apprentice" after the Donald "fired" the network; getting chuckles from "Chuck"; and tripping with "Journeyman."
As far as bringing back old faces -- not that there's anything wrong with it; hell, there's a lot that's right with it. Silverman's also seduced the elusive Jerry Seinfeld for a guest appearance on "30 Rock."
Does the 37-year-old rock? Does the "Bionic Woman" have fake body parts? She's been re- engineered, too, for this season.
"This is what I always wanted to do. I love television," he says of his must-seize TV opportunity.
And the "Seeds of Peace" activist cedes nothing to the outside world, where his philanthropy comes into play. Seeds of Peace recently celebrated its Bar Mitzvah year, formed in the hope of bringing youth together from war-torn nations. It began with a meeting and a mitzvah, joining kids from Israel, Egypt and the PLO, expanding since to include youngsters from Jordan, Afghanistan and Pakistan, among others.
Conflicts of interest for Silverman, who's helped piece together peace programs for the group?
Could Seeds of Peace be a piece of the NBC lineup one day?
The reality regent gives it immunity for the moment.
"Peace is something we believe in, and we are a peaceful network," he kibitzes.
If NBC was holding out for a "Heroes," well, it claimed one last season. But they were fictional bridge-jumpers and time-warpers.
This one, with the invincible smile and boyish looks belying the mano a mano world that he's gripped ... this reality guru is the real thing -- and maybe even the one who can jump-start and time-slot mend a whole network.