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USA and Syfy Chief Chris McCumber Exits NBCUniversal as Frances Berwick Sets Leadership Team

Variety — Daniel Holloway

Veteran cable executive Chris McCumber is leaving NBCUniversal.

The exec, who announced his departure in a memo to staff in Wednesday, played a key role in USA Network’s success during the aughts “blue sky” era and later developed and launched that channel’s most prestigious hit, “Mr. Robot.” Most recently he oversaw USA and sibling channel Syfy as president of entertainment networks for NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment.

Also exiting the company is NBC Entertainment marketing and digital president Len Fogge, who had been with the network since August 2011. Prior to that, Fogge was EVP of creative, marketing, research and digital media at Showtime Networks — where he worked with Bob Greenblatt, who then moved over to the Peacock and recruited Fogge to join him.

McCumber and Fogge are among exits that have now been made official amid a massive restructuring of NBCUniversal’s television operations. Also departing after a period of transition (like Fogge) is Lesley Cerwin, who had served as senior vice president of strategic business initiatives since last year. Cerwin is a well-liked exec who had been at NBC since 2005, starting in publicity before moving into the alternative programming department. The moves also come after NBC Entertainment chairman Paul Telegdy was fired in August.

Following Telegdy’s exit last month, Frances Berwick, formerly head of lifestyle network for the cable group, was promoted to head of operations for all NBCU’s linear entertainment channels, including the NBC broadcast network. Outgoing Warner Bros. TV president Susan Rovner is in protracted negotiations to take over as head of programming for those channels and the Peacock streaming service.

On Wednesday, Berwick named her executive leadership team. Under Berwick, Jeff Bader will serve as head of program planning for the linear TV group; Val Boreland will be head of content strategy across the channels and Peacock; Liz Maheffy will head consumer insights; Lauren McCollester will head business affairs; NBC Sports veteran Jenny Storms will add oversight of entertainment marketing (which led to Fogge’s departure); and Chip Sullivan will serve as head of communications.

“While change can bring challenges, it also brings opportunity,” Berwick wrote to staff Wedneday. “By aligning resources and harnessing expertise from across our portfolio, we can build centralized teams that are more nimble, innovative, and overall better equipped to compete in this ever-evolving content landscape.”

Under McCumber, USA has been the highest rated entertainment cable network on television for 14 years straight.

“It’s difficult to encapsulate two decades into one note,” McCumber wrote in his note to staff. “Together as a team, we helped make USA Network the #1 cable entertainment network for a record 14 years, rebooted SYFY with a fan-first perspective, won a slew of awards, and created some of television’s most popular programs of all time. But beyond all the successes and accolades, what I’ll remember most is the special bond that we had as a team. A bond built on trust, mutual respect, and of course, having a lot of fun making great content.”

McCumber served as senior VP of on-air programs at USA from 2001 to 2004, when he was promoted to head of marketing. In 2011, McCumber was named co-president of USA alongside Jeff Wachtel. He became sole president of the network in 2013, then added Syfy to his purview in 2016.

Among the series McCumber helped launch were “Suits,” “Psych,” “Monk,” “Chrisley Knows Best” and “The Sinner.”

Read the full memos from McCumber and Berwick below. From McCumber:

Friends and Colleagues –

I’ve always promised to be open and transparent – and it is in that spirit that I wanted you to be the first to hear that I have decided to leave NBCUniversal, following a period of transition.

After nearly 20 years at this tremendous company, this has not been an easy decision. Yet I believe wholeheartedly that NBCUniversal is taking the right steps by creating a new organization built for the future.

It’s difficult to encapsulate two decades into one note. Together as a team, we helped make USA Network the #1 cable entertainment network for a record 14 years, rebooted SYFY with a fan-first perspective, won a slew of awards, and created some of television’s most popular programs of all time. But beyond all the successes and accolades, what I’ll remember most is the special bond that we had as a team. A bond built on trust, mutual respect, and of course, having a lot of fun making great content.

I know that change is not always easy, but I believe that periods of disruption always open new doors. I encourage you all to seize every opportunity that comes your way. You’ve got a front row seat to the evolution of the television business… what a gift!

I’m forever grateful and proud to have had the privilege of working alongside each and every one of you, and to call you my teammates and friends.

Thank you for the honor –

Chris

From Berwick:

Dear Entertainment Team,

I’ve had the pleasure of spending some time during these last few weeks with leaders across our groups.  As we begin to build our new division, I have been consistently impressed, although not at all surprised, at the level of talent and expertise we have within our midst. 

On that note, I want to share the new leadership team who will report into me under the entertainment business division.  These executives were selected from across the portfolio for their deep knowledge, diverse set of experiences and desire to lean into change as a force to bring our business into the future. 

Jeff Bader will lead program planning, adding the six cable entertainment networks to his current NBC oversight, bringing his vast programming experience to optimize viewing across all platforms and drive strategic windowing of content.    

Val Boreland will expand her responsibilities of buying and expertly curating content across the Entertainment and Lifestyle cable group to oversee acquisitions across all of our networks and platforms including Peacock.

Liz Mahaffey, who has been instrumental to Peacock’s successful launch as the leader of their consumer insights team, will now add to her remit research and insights for the entertainment brands, centralizing and prioritizing our audience intelligence efforts and driving cross platform insights. She will also manage the corporate research function.

Lauren McCollester will bring her strategic outlook, dynamic industry acumen and top deal-making skills to our division as head of business affairs, following her rise through the ranks over a 20-year career at NBCUniversal.

Jenny Storms will build upon her successes at NBC Sports by adding entertainment marketing to her purview (she will continue to report into Pete Bevacqua, President, NBC Sports Group for her sports responsibilities).  As head of marketing for our group, Jenny’s transformational view on consumer engagement will amplify the impact of our programming and IP.

Chip Sullivan, who has expertly led communications for NBC Entertainment for the past five years, will now take on the role of head of communications across all of our entertainment networks.  Chip’s responsibilities will encompass internal and external communications, publicity and talent relations.

And, as Christy Shibata, Chief Financial Officer, NBCUniversal Television and Streaming, shared on Monday, Holly Tang will lead finance across the entertainment content and business division. 

Please join me in congratulating this exceptional group of leaders.  We are all looking forward to boldly rethinking how we do business together.

In the meantime, thank you in advance for your patience as these leaders work to map out each of their organizations.  Our goal is to bring clarity as quickly as possible keeping in mind that our top priority is to make decisions in a thoughtful and informed way. 

Change can cause uncertainty, and I do not underestimate the difficulty of navigating this time while also doing all that is required to keep creating great content and keeping our consumers engaged.  Again, thank you. 

And while change can bring challenges, it also brings opportunity.  By aligning resources and harnessing expertise from across our portfolio, we can build centralized teams that are more nimble, innovative, and overall better equipped to compete in this ever-evolving content landscape.

Frances

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