It’s Prime time for NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke, who has been named head of Amazon Studios after a lengthy search process at the digital giant. Salke had long been rumored as a frontrunner for the gig, and became the leading choice after the other top contender, A+E Networks president/CEO Nancy Dubuc, dropped out of the running earlier this week.
Salke’s new job represents a huge leap for the executive, who will oversee both film and television at Amazon. She joins the company as it undergoes a shift in the kind of content it produces — moving away from smaller, more indie fare to broader, populist content.
Salke will report directly to Seattle-based Amazon senior vice president Jeff Blackburn, and fills the position that has been more or less vacant since Roy Price exited last year in the wake of a sexual harassment scandal.
“What stood out about Jen was the deep relationships she has nurtured with creators and talent over her career, spanning NBCU, Twentieth Century Fox, and Aaron Spelling Productions,” Blackburn said in a statement. “She’s built an impeccable reputation as a big leader who emphasizes creativity, collaboration, and teamwork.”
Salke’s hire also clarifies what had become a confusing reporting structure in the wake of Price’s exit. After Price first departed, Amazon Studios COO Albert Cheng was tapped as Price’s interim replacement, but because he has more of a tech than an entertainment background, his oversight ultimately focused mostly on TV, while head of film Jason Ropell reported directly to Blackburn as well. But under the new structure, Cheng, Ropell, and Brad Beale (Amazon’s Seattle- based head of digital-video-content acquisition) will all report to Salke. Together, they will work on a new org structure for the studio.
The hiring of Salke is telling, as she has been behind some of the biggest TV hits in recent years, starting with “This Is Us.” Prior to joining NBC in 2011, Salke was executive vice president of creative affairs at 20th Century Fox TV, where she helped develop and promote hits like “Modern Family” and “Glee.”
“I’m incredibly excited about the future at Amazon Studios,” Salke said in the announcement. “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.”
The timing of the transition is still unclear, but will take place over the next few weeks. NBC also hopes to have a replacement for Salke in line by then.
“Jennifer Salke is a world class entertainment executive and deserves enormous credit for helping put NBC back on top,” said NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt. “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. “
It’s Salke’s kind of big, mainstream success that Amazon boss Jeff Bezos appears to be going for. Bezos, for example, was instrumental in pushing for TV rights to “The Lord of the Rings,” a reported $250 million deal than may ultimately be a $1 billion franchise for the company.
Salke’s success has mostly been in broadcast, but at NBC Universal her oversight also includes Universal Television, which has produced hit shows for streaming including “Master of None” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” at Netflix, and “The Mindy Project” at Hulu.
Salke’s hire comes as Amazon was said to be looking for a female executive to run its studios division in the wake of the scandal surrounding Price, who was accused of making crude and inappropriate sexual remarks to “The Man in the High Castle” producer Isa Hackett (whose father was Phillip K. Dick, the author of the novel that inspired the series).
On the TV side, Salke will oversee a department that has undergone a massive executive change in recent months, and now is led by mostly female department heads. International productions head Morgan Wandell had already left to join Apple in a similar role prior to Price’s departure, while scripted head Joe Lewis and unscripted head Conrad Riggs were let go after Price. More recently, kids programming head Tara Sorensen, international development exec Carina Walker and business affairs head Tara Pietri also jumped from Amazon to Apple.
Former Fox International exec Sharon Tal Yguado, who had joined Amazon in January as head of event series, replaced Lewis as Amazon’s top scripted exec, while Heather Schuester replaced Riggs.
“They’re looking to clean house and basically restart the whole company,” one insider told IndieWire late last fall. As Amazon began hunting for Price’s replacement, one main topic was the understanding that there will be an adjustment process to getting used to “the Amazon culture,” which may be different from what born-and-bred Hollywood execs are used to.
Insiders have reported a bit of a power vacuum in recent months, complicating some decisions and greenlights, as business affairs/finance, legal, marketing, and programming had their own opinions and needs.
At least on the TV side, Salke joins Amazon as it enjoys the success of new series “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” which recently won two Golden Globe awards, including best TV comedy or musical. Other current programming includes “The Grand Tour,” which stars former “Top Gear” hosts Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May, and is the service’s No. 1 program, along with “Sneaky Pete,” “The Man in the High Castle” and “The Tick.” Amazon recently cut several shows, including “One Mississippi,” as part of its programming adjustment.
Salke will also be at Amazon in time to also handle the ongoing question of Jeffrey Tambor’s involvement, or non-involvement, in the next season of “Transparent.”
New shows include “Britannia,” which premiered last month, as well as “Homecoming,” creator Sam Esmail’s psychological thriller starring Julia Roberts as a caseworker at a secret government facility; “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan,” John Krasinski’s take on the role as the CIA analyst, in an adaptation from Carlton Cuse and Graham Roland; Matt Weiner’s anthology series “The Romanoffs,” featuring different stories connected by the fact that the characters are all descendants of the Russian royal family; and a comedy starring Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph, from creators Alan Yang and Matt Hubbard.