NBC’s Jennifer Salke Named Head of Amazon Studios

After a long search process that captivated Hollywood insiders, NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke has been named head of Amazon Studios.
Salke will oversee all television and film production for the digital behemoth’s entertainment arm, reporting to Jeff Blackburn, Amazon’s senior VP of business development and digital entertainment. She fills the leadership void that opened in early November when longtime Amazon Studios head Roy Price was forced out amid sexual harassment allegations.

“What stood out about Jen was the deep relationships she has nurtured with creators and talent over her career, spanning NBCU, 20th Century Fox, and Aaron Spelling Productions,” Blackburn said. “She’s built an impeccable reputation as a big leader who emphasizes creativity, collaboration, and teamwork.”

Amazon COO Albert Cheng, who has overseen the studio since Price’s ouster, will report to Salke. Amazon Studios film boss Jason Ropell and Brad Beale, VP of content acquisition, also report to Salke. Those four executives will work together in the coming months to sort out a more detailed management hierarchy for the studio division of the company that has an astounding $623.9 billion market cap.Salke comes to Amazon after spending the past six years as entertainment president at NBC, where she helped bring the Peacock out of its long ratings slump with shows such as “This Is Us” and Dick Wolf’s “Chicago” trilogy of procedural dramas. The timing of her start at Amazon is still not clear, as Salke plans to remain at NBC during a transition period. NBC expects to name a successor — sure to come from within its ranks — in a matter of days.

“I’m incredibly excited about the future at Amazon Studios,” Salke said. “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. Of course, this is also bittersweet for me. NBC has been an amazing home – creatively, professionally and personally – and I leave there knowing that the work we did had groundbreaking impact. It’s an exciting time to be a content creator, and I look forward to being on the front lines of an innovative business with storytelling at its heart.”

At Amazon, Salke will take over the creative leadership of a division that has been rocked by scandal. In November, two other executives — scripted chief Joe Lewis and unscripted head Conrad Riggs — followed Price out the door soon after. Amazon’s programming ambition has expanded quickly in the last few years amid the Peak TV rush. But the company has a spotty reputation in the creative community.

Beyond the executive turmoil, Amazon’s entertainment efforts have reached a crossroads with the understanding that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has issued a mandate for the company to pursue broad, big-budget fare rather than the arthouse-style fare that has characterized Amazon’s output to date — notably the groundbreaking comedy “Transparent” and parallel-universe fantasy drama “Man in the High Castle.”

The unexpected opening at the top gave Amazon a chance to reset the studio division. The CEO search became a daily soap opera for Hollywood insiders as speculation about possible successors was rampant. Although Amazon has a reputation for paying modest salaries and offering few perks even to senior executives, the chance to lead the studio operation for a company with the deepest of pockets and formidable marketing and distribution muscle made it a much sought-after job. (Not to mention the stock options at a company with a four-figure share price.) Amazon Studios took a big step to bolstering its operations just this week with the hiring of Warner Bros. TV alum Tammy Golihew to head series publicity.

A+E Networks chief Nancy Dubuc had long been engaged in discussions with Amazon. Fox Television Group chairman-CEO Dana Walden also had conversations with Blackburn and others until she bowed out in January. Producers Amy Pascal and Gail Berman, YouTube’s Susanne Daniels, and Annapurna’s Sue Naegle are also among those who were the mix early on.

Even without a leader in place, Amazon in November committed a whopping $250 million to a rights deal for the “Lord of the Rings” franchise with the goal of producing multiple series. Since Price left, Amazon Studios efforts have been led by Cheng. Sharon Tal Yguado, Amazon’s head of scripted series, has been leading the development charge the past few months. Amazon has made some big commitments in recent weeks, including a two-season order for a new take on the “Conan the Barbarian” franchise. It has also been cleaning house of programs that presumably drew small audiences such as the half-hours “One Mississippi,” “I Love Dick,” and “Jean-Claude Van Johnson.”

Salke brings to Amazon a big Rolodex and long resume of developing and producing shows. She joined NBC in 2011 as head of primetime programming and she oversaw the rebirth of Universal Television as a full-fledged studio producing for NBC as well as outside TV buyers. NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt offered a salute to his longtime lieutenant and friend.

“Jennifer Salke is a world-class entertainment executive and deserves enormous credit for helping put NBC back on top,” Greenblatt said. “This opportunity is the logical next step in her phenomenal career and we wish her only the best. While we will all miss her enormously, we will hopefully find many new ways to be in business with her at Amazon.”

As for Salke’s replacement, there was immediate speculation about a promotion for Pearlena Igbokwe, the president of Universal Television who previously oversaw drama for NBC. Salke’s role at NBC included oversight of network entertainment arm and the studio. But sources cautioned that several scenarios were under consideration involving existing NBC executives including drama head Liza Katz and comedy chief Tracey Pakosta. Whatever happens, sources said, Igbokwe is expected to remain at the helm of Universal TV.

Before NBC, Salke spent nine years in development at 20th Century Fox TV, where she shepherded such hits as “Modern Family,” “Glee,” “Prison Break,” and “Bones.”

Earlier in her career, Salke worked for Aaron Spelling Productions and for Columbia TriStar Television.

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