CBS’ TV entertainment chief went on the defensive Sunday in response to explosive allegations of sexual harassment that have roiled the company and threatened to end the reign of his longtime boss Leslie Moonves.
Kelly Kahl expressed support for the investigation into sexual harassment allegations against Moonves, chief executive and chairman of CBS Corp. But Kahl also said there was no systemic problem with harassment in the entertainment division he has run for the past year, describing it as a “collaborative, inclusive, safe workplace.”
“Leslie has been an excellent boss and a mentor for a long time,” Kahl said Sunday at the Television Critics Assn. press tour in Beverly Hills. “He put me in this job. At the same time, we must respect the voices that come forward. All allegations need to be and are being taken seriously.”
Kahl is the first CBS executive to speak in a public forum about the matter since the company was shaken by a New Yorker magazine report that said its chief executive allegedly harassed six women, in several cases forcibly kissing them in incidents that mostly date back to the 1980s and ’90s. The story also said management tolerated harassment and misbehavior at the network’s prestigious newsmagazine “60 Minutes.”
The report led the CBS board of directors to hire two law firms to investigate the allegations and the workplace culture at the company. Moonves, who has run CBS since 2006, remains on the job.
CBS executives had internal debates over whether Kahl should take his scheduled turn on stage at the TCA press tour, which put him in front of a hotel ballroom full of reporters amid allegations that threaten to drop the curtain on Moonves’ much-heralded CBS career.
Kahl wanted the press tour to proceed as planned so that the network’s new show launches this fall will get recognized. The tour is held semiannually so that networks can publicize their upcoming programs.
Kahl did not directly comment on the allegations, but said he was “very confident that CBS Entertainment is a welcome and safe home.”
He said many female colleagues told him they were “saddened” by reports of the allegations.
“They said it does not represent their experience at CBS,” he said.
Kahl was pressed on the division’s handling of Brad Kern, the executive producer of the CBS series “NCIS: New Orleans,” who remained on the program after the company’s 2016 investigation of allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior on the set of his show. The results of the investigation were inconclusive, CBS said.
The company recently hired outside counsel to conduct another investigation involving Kern after receiving further complaints about his behavior. CBS executives confirmed that Kern was suspended in June while that investigation is underway.
“I believe in terms of keeping him out of the workplace during the investigation, that was to be as fair and open as we could be,” Kahl said. “The investigation is ongoing. I’m told we will have results soon.”
Separately, Jeff Fager, the embattled executive producer of “60 Minutes,” is extending his vacation amid a review into the workplace culture of CBS News. Fager was scheduled to return to work on Monday.
“Having heard the investigation will be wrapping up soon, Jeff has decided to stay on vacation,“ CBS News said in a statement Sunday morning.
Fager came under harsh light in the New Yorker, which alleged the producer acted boorishly at after-hours work functions and allowed a culture that tolerated discrimination and inappropriate behavior within the newsmagazine he has run since 2004.
CBS earlier this spring hired the Proskauer Rose law firm to investigate CBS News in the wake of allegations that Charlie Rose, the former PBS talk show host, “60 Minutes” correspondent and co-anchor of “CBS This Morning,” had acted inappropriately with three female assistants. The three women are suing Rose and CBS News.
While CBS grapples with the crisis, the #MeToo issue — the social media movement ignited by sexual misconduct claims against ex-mogul Harvey Weinstein — will be popping up in the network’s scripted programs. Diane English, executive producer and creator of “Murphy Brown,” said a #MeToo-themed episode was already in the works for the revival of the sitcom.
“Murphy Brown,” which first ran on CBS from 1988 to 1998, is returning with its original cast, which includes star Candice Bergen. The updated series set in a TV newsroom specialized in topical commentary and is expected to weigh in on the Trump White House, which describes the American press as “the enemy of the people.”
English said she supports CBS’ harassment investigation. But she noted she was never subjected to harassment or inappropriate behavior during her association with CBS, which dates back to the late 1980s.
“None of us have had any negative experience in that regard at CBS, and I go back to the Bill Paley days,” she said, referring to the network’s founding owner. “I never experienced any kind of sexual misconduct personally or misogyny and, as far as I know, no one on the crew has.”