Fred Silverman (born September 13, 1937 from New York City, New York, died January 30 2020) was an American television executive and producer who had the distinction of working at the top position of the "big three" networks (CBS, ABC, and NBC) and bringing hit programs to all three. He was also responsible for stopping the wiping process at all three networks and, despite not being a fan of the genre, brought game shows to all three as well.
While Silverman generally developed hits during his time at CBS (1970-75) and ABC (1975-78), his move to NBC in 1978 would prove near-fatal for the network: while launching several hits, along with revitalizing the news division and bringing back the classic Peacock emblem, Silverman's tenure was generally marked with low ratings and failures including The Waverly Wonders (September-October 1978), Hello, Larry (January 1979-April 1980), Supertrain (February-May 1979), Pink Lady and Jeff (March-April 1980), the 1980 Summer Olympics (July-August; NBC spent $87,000,000 to cover it for 150 hours, only for America to boycott), and Season 6 of Saturday Night Live (November 1980-April 1981).
The ratings got to a point where Al Franken delivered a scathing commentary called "A Limo for the Lame-O" on the May 10, 1980 episode of SNL, resulting in Silverman vetoing creator Lorne Michaels' request that Franken take over. Later, network staff recorded "Loud as a Peacock" (a scathing parody of "Proud as a Peacock" with the same singers, music, and studio) and sent copies to NBC affiliates for Christmas. In early 1981, Don Imus played it on his WNBC radio show and Silverman ordered all copies to be destroyed; this, much like his attempts to boost ratings, failed.
Silverman has two major associations with Wheel, the first being in 1980 when he nearly cancelled the show twice.
- The first time was around April, when Wheel was considered for cancellation with two other games to debut The David Letterman Show on June 23; this was quickly dismissed, as discussed by Chuck Woolery and Susan Stafford on May 7. The axed games were Chain Reaction (which had only debuted six months earlier), High Rollers (debuted in 1978), and The Hollywood Squares (debuted in 1966).
- The second attempt, reported by Variety as being in May, was carried through to the point of Wheel taping a series finale for August 1 and several staffers (including Charlie O'Donnell) leaving for elsewhere. Silverman reversed the decision by July 16, cutting Letterman's show to 60 minutes instead.
In late 1981, Silverman rejected Merv Griffin's choice of Pat Sajak to replace Chuck, claiming that Sajak was "too local". Merv's response was to halt Wheel tapings until Pat was hired, which only happened after Silverman left the network; his replacement, MTM Enterprises co-founder and president Grant Tinker, had previously convinced Mort Werner to pick up Jeopardy! in 1964.
After Silverman left NBC in late 1981, he began his own production company and developed such hits as Matlock, In the Heat of the Night, and Diagnosis: Murder. Oddly, considering what he had done to the original series, Silverman appeared on Hollywood Squares for the week of January 2-6, 1989.
Fred Silverman died on January 30, 2020, at his home in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles from cancer.