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CBS shake-up: Network has a new boss as cuts loom

Kelly Kahl, President, CBS Entertainment
Kelly Kahl, president of CBS Entertainment, speaks at the CBS Entertainment executive panel at the TCA Summer Press Tour in Los Angeles in 2018.
(Francis Specker / CBS via Getty Images)
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Kelly Kahl, the respected head of the CBS television network for five turbulent years, will step down next month, clearing the way for veteran programmer Amy Reisenbach to succeed him.

CBS President George Cheeks announced the moves Wednesday, noting Kahl’s departure was “part of a restructuring and streamlining of leadership at CBS Entertainment.” Reisenbach now will oversee the network’s prime-time, daytime and late-night creative departments, the company announced.

In her expanded role, Reisenbach — a Kahl lieutenant who has been at CBS for 17 years — also will be responsible for comedy and drama development, alternatives and specials, current programming and scheduling and casting.

“She is a passionate advocate for writers, producers and the creative process, with proven programming instincts for what it takes to make and sustain highly successful television series,” Cheeks said in a statement. “She also continues to be a strong proponent for diversity and inclusion and a key figure in the advancements CBS has made in front of and behind the camera in this area.”

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The moves are part of a larger restructuring at the network that is expected to result in job cuts.

CBS’ efforts to thin its management ranks comes as television companies brace for a tough 2023 amid linear ratings declines and forecasts for a possible recession that has already put a dent in advertisers’ budgets. Major companies throughout the industry, including Warner Bros. Discovery and NBCUniversal, are cutting hundreds of employees. CBS, which is part of Paramount Global, is also making cuts.

Reisenbach takes the helm as the network has 16 of the top 25 shows this season in broadcast television.

“This Network means so much to the people who work here, the writers and producers who call it home, and the viewers who fall in love with our series,” Reisenbach said in a statement. “I’m excited and proud to continue our tradition of excellence that everyone at this Network strives to exceed every day.”

She will report to Cheeks.

CBS also said that Thom Sherman, the senior executive vice president for programming, would leave the network by year’s end and segue into a producer role where he will develop shows for CBS and the streaming service Paramount+.

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Reisenbach joined CBS in 2005 as a general manager of current programs and became a vice president six years later. She worked her way up the ranks, and became executive vice president of current programs at CBS in 2017. Before joining CBS, she worked at the Warner Bros. Television studio. She is a graduate of the University of Arizona with a bachelor’s degree in social and behavioral sciences.

Kahl provided key leadership to the network that has weathered much upheaval in the past five years.

Observers said Kahl understood the roots and heritage of the storied network and was astute at protecting CBS’ position with viewers amid the seismic changes in the media business. He was the unflappable architect of the industry’s most stable prime-time schedule, one that elevated CBS to the top of the broadcast network heap for 19 of the last 20 television seasons.

Kahl, in an email to the CBS staff, said that working at CBS for the past 26 years “was an absolute honor and privilege.”

“I started here as a scheduler when we were in 3rd place and loved battling into 1st, but I’m especially proud of our accomplishments during my run as entertainment president over the past five years,” Kahl wrote.

“We delivered tangible improvements in diversity and inclusion in front of and behind the camera, held our teams together and focused during the pandemic, and launched numerous hit series that maintained CBS #1 status,” Kahl said.

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Over his long tenure, Kahl championed daring moves such as switching a nascent “Survivor” and “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” to Thursday nights in an effort to rake in more advertising dollars and compete head to head with NBC’s then-juggernaut lineup. He became entertainment president in 2017 — a year before the company was sent reeling by allegations of sexual assault by its longtime leader, Leslie Moonves.

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.

Aug. 5, 2018

After Moonves was forced out in September 2018, Kahl stepped up along with Showtime’s David Nevins to provide stability for a shell-shocked division. The upheaval continued in 2019 when Viacom and CBS merged, creating ViacomCBS. Earlier this year, the company rebranded itself Paramount Global, in an effort to leave its tumultuous past behind. Nevins also is leaving the company.

As entertainment president, Kahl shepherded such hits as “The Neighborhood,” “Ghosts,” “The Equalizer,” “NCIS: Hawai’i,” “Fire Country,” and three installments of “FBI.” He also advocated for CBS’ hit reality franchises.

“More broadly, Kelly has been a fierce advocate for the vitality of broadcast television while being a steady and respected network leader through the good times as well as turbulent periods,” Cheeks wrote. “Without question, Kelly has dedicated the last 26 years to building CBS and leaves it positioned for even further success. He has been humble, gracious and generous with his peers every step of the way.”

A graduate of the University of Wisconsin and USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, Kahl got his break in television as an intern at Lorimar, the production company best known for the hit series “Dallas” and “Knots Landing.”

Lorimar became part of Warner Bros. Television, where under then-chief Moonves, the studio produced two of network TV’s biggest hits, “Friends” and “ER.” Kahl worked in the research department at Warner Bros. and then followed Moonves to CBS when he became entertainment president in 1995.

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Kahl was put in charge of scheduling and over the years used the network’s meager programming assets to build a larger audience. Using such hits as “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “Survivor,” “CSI” “Big Bang Theory” and “NCIS,” Kahl’s formula was to expand the network’s strength across the week without any major disruptions to viewers’ habits in an age before they had streaming.

Kahl ascended to the role of entertainment president — one of the rare scheduling executives to make the jump to the creative side — and kept the network in first place. Under Kahl’s watch, CBS continued to turn out broad-appeal hits such as the sitcom “Ghosts,” and producer Dick Wolf’s “FBI” franchise.

Over the last 20 years, with Kahl as part of the entertainment division’s leadership, CBS has been the most-watched network, with the exception of the 2007-08 season when the Writers Guild of America strike had kept many hit series off the air or in repeat episodes.

On Wednesday, Kahl did not say what his next venture might be. But he celebrated his camaraderie with his CBS crew.

“I’ve lived a TV fan’s dream to work with the most talented writers, producers, and actors in television. Most importantly, I’ve loved being in the trenches alongside all of you — the finest executives and employees in show business,” Kahl wrote. “This place is special and so are its people.”

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