Making Sense Of CBS Executive Shakeup Amid Streamlining & Cost Cutting At Paramount Global
Restructuring, streamlining and realignment. We’ve been hearing that phrasing quite a bit over the past few months as media congloms have been thinning out their top executive ranks and targeting efficiencies to improve their balance sheets in a time when the effects from the pandemic are being exacerbated by the impact of the economic slowdown, high inflation and a looming recession.
CBS president and CEO George Cheeks used the “restructuring and streamlining” language in his memos yesterday announcing the exits of Kelly Kahl, a 26-year CBS veteran, who is stepping down as President of CBS Entertainment, and Thom Sherman, who is departing as Senior EVP of Programming. (While Sherman had been at CBS for 5.5 years, he had been with the larger company for 16.5 years, having previously worked at the CW, which until recently was a joint venture between CBS and Warner Bros.)
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Last month, another top exec from the CBS part of Paramount Global, Showtime Chairman and CEO David Nevins, exited after 12 years. And the month before, Jo Ann Ross, a 30-year CBS veteran, also stepped down. No outside executives have been brought in as replacements, with Nevins’ duties divvied up among other top Paramount Global execs, including Cheeks, Ross’ role as President of Paramount Advertising taken over by COO John Halley while Kahl and Sherman’s positions were consolidated into one, Entertainment President, which will be held by CBS head of current Amy Reisenbach.
That plays into the notion that Paramount Global has been top-heavy, especially post-merger, with multiple senior executives at the highest level in various areas.
Kicked off by Ross’ exit, the ad sales restructuring continued yesterday with layoffs of close to 100 employees. The move of Paramount TV Studios, previously overseen by Nevins, to Cheeks’ portfolio, where it joins CBS Studios, also is expected to result in layoffs at both studios, largely in business and other non-creative areas, with the two development teams remaining separate.
“We have always been mindful of cost management as a company, and we are now taking additional steps to improve efficiency across our organization,” Paramount CEO Bob Bakish said on the company’s recent quarterly earnings call following soft financial results.
Bakish has been advocating closer cooperation across divisions, which he hopes some of the recent moves would help with.
“This change has also given us the opportunity to more closely align our studios, networks and streaming operations as we execute on our vision and strategy for the future,” he said following Nevins’ exit.
Paramount Global is not the only company that has been slimming down, and long-time TV executives have been departing at a steady pace across the industry. Just weeks ago, we saw the exit of the CW CEO and Chairman Mark Pedowitz after 11.5 years. And while CBS went from two, Kahl and Sherman, to one executive at the helm of its entertainment division, that is still more than the other two Big 3 broadcast networks amid an ongoing decline in linear viewing. Neither ABC nor NBC have a dedicated programming executive for the broadcast network, with Craig Erwich overseeing both ABC and Hulu’s original programming (as well as Disney Branded Entertainment) and Susan Rovner shepherding both NBC and Peacock.
In the case of Paramount, there are likely other factors too. Ross, Nevins, Kahl and Sherman were the last remaining top-level executives on the CBS side of the company who had not been appointed by Bakish or someone hired by him but by former CBS CEO Les Moonves.
Additionally, Cheeks did not make any major executive changes when he joined then-ViacomCBS at the start of 2020. He is now putting his own stamp with Reisenbach’s promotion which could bring a creative shift at the network.
CBS has done well, maintaining its title as the most watched broadcast network for 14 straight seasons. Beyond outlier Ghosts, the other successful new scripted additions during Kahl and Sherman’s tenure have been procedurals and spinoffs from established franchises, including FBI, FBI: Most Wanted and FBI: International, The Equalizer, NCIS: Hawai’i, and new breakout Fire Country as well as traditional multi-camera sitcoms The Neighborhood, Bob ♥ Abishola and Ghosts.
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