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Nickelodeon's longtime president is out as Viacom continues management overhaul

Nickelodeon's longtime president is out as Viacom continues management overhaul
Cyma Zarghami, shown in 2015, stepped down Monday as president of Viacom's Nickelodeon network. (Bennett Raglin / Getty Images for Common Sense Me)

Nickelodeon’s longtime president Cyma Zarghami, who has worked at the children’s TV channel for more than 30 years, is stepping down as parent company Viacom continues to reshape its management ranks.

Viacom Chief Executive Bob Bakish announced Zarghami’s departure Monday. Viacom Media Networks Chief Operating Officer Sarah Levy will run the network, at least on an interim basis, while Bakish searches for a replacement for the hugely important children’s channel. Levy has been with Viacom for two decades and her responsibilities have expanded since Bakish took over as CEO in December 2016.

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"Over the course of her career, Cyma has played an integral role in growing Nickelodeon into the dominant force in kids' entertainment,” Bakish said in a company statement announcing her departure.

Viacom did not disclose the reasons for Zarghami’s exit, but it’s the latest move by Bakish to remake Viacom’s leadership by ushering out longtime executives who served prominently in the regime of his predecessor, Philippe Dauman. Zarghami was one of Dauman’s closest allies.

Zarghami joined Nickelodeon in 1985 and has served in the top job since 2006. Over the years, the channel has soared in popularity with such shows as “SpongeBob SquarePants,” “iCarly” and “Dora the Explorer.”

But the channel, which still boasts shows popular with preschoolers, such as “Paw Patrol,” has suffered in the streaming era with rising competition. Some parents prefer that their children watch commercial-free programming available through major streaming services, such as Netflix. Some critics believe that Viacom unwittingly helped turn Netflix into a destination for children with its an ill-fated decision more than five years ago to license “SpongeBob SquarePants” and other Nickelodeon shows to the streaming service.

Viacom ended the deal in 2013 amid a steep ratings decline. Nickelodeon, like many other traditional channels, has been grappling with audience erosion. Separately, Nickelodeon this spring ended its longtime relationship with its most prolific producer, Dan Schneider.

Last week, there was another major departure. Debra Lee left Viacom after serving in the top job at the BET network for more than two decades. Lee started at BET, which showcases African American programming, in 1986 and helped build it into a juggernaut.

With Lee's and Zarghami's departures, Bakish has replaced nearly every top programming head at Viacom.

4 p.m.: This article was updated with additional background on Zarghami.

This article was originally published at 11:50 a.m.

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