CBS president at TCA: "Everybody is safe and happy"

By James Hibberd
August 05, 2018 at 12:11 PM EDT
Francis Specker/CBS

CBS launched its Television Critics Assn. press tour session presenting its fall season in Beverly Hills on Sunday with a statement about the network’s embattled CEO Leslie Moonves — and then opened up the room to an array of tough questions from reporters.

CBS entertainment president Kelly Kahl took the stage and began the day with this statement: “Obviously this has been a tough week at CBS. I know there was some speculation we would cancel today. There are literally thousands of talented producers, writers, actors, crews — not to mention all the people at CBS — who have been preparing for months to launch the fall season. They worked incredibly hard and they deserve our best efforts to share all the new shows with all of you. We are committed to a collaborative, inclusive and safe workplace. I have had many female colleagues who have come to us this week who have been saddened by what they’ve read about our company. They said it does not represent their experience at CBS. I’m not saying we’re perfect. No large company is. And there’s always room for improvement. But a lot of us have been here a long time precisely because CBS Entertainment is such a fulfilling place to work. Everyone here has remained laser-focused on the job at hand. That means nurturing more than 40 shows in production… Even with all that’s going on around us, we’re running our business. We have the best execs in television and we’re doing our jobs.”

“In regard to Leslie, a few people at CBS have already attempted to put their thoughts into words,” the executive added. “I think Terry Press, president of CBS Films, wrote eloquently about the situation. And Stephen Colbert spoke thoughtfully and powerfully on his show this past week. I know they both struggled to express their feelings. I struggle as well. Leslie has been an excellent boss and a mentor for a long time. 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 …As you can imagine the scope of what I can talk about today is limited. It’s a pretty safe bet that there’s not much I can say up here that’s going to satisfy all of you or answer all of your questions. But I value this event, and our relationship and what we do here, and I value our terrific team at CBS Entertainment.”  

Then Kahl took a seat and opened up the room to questions. One reporter asked: Yes or no: Does CBS need a radical cultural change for all employees?

To which Kahl replied: “We take workplace safety really seriously. If you look up and down the halls, you will find a safe environment, over 40 shows in production, the vast majority of those shows have excellent sets. Everybody is very happy and safe … Any time any allegation comes up on any of our shows, it’s investigated immediately. There’s no wiggle room there.”

Another reporter asked: How can you stand there and not admit that there might be a problem? 

“I can only speak to the entertainment division,” Kahl said. “We’re a large company. I’m confident the culture of the entertainment division is very safe, very collaborative, and very welcoming. We have a whole bunch of awesome executives in the back of the room who I think would attest to that.”

Kahl was also repeatedly asked about NCIS: New Orleans producer Brad Kern, who has been investigated three times for harassment allegations — yet was cleared and reinstated as a consulting producer on the show.

“CBS Studios investigated Brad Kern in 2016; action was taken after that investigation,” Kahl said. “There have been no complaints since. I’m troubled and frustrated that reports continue to come out of the press. So we started another investigation with outside counsel. The goal is to get to the truth. I believe they will.”

Another reporter asked about how the network’s staff has been impacted.

“At CBS Entertainment, we have 61 percent female execs [who are at the vice president level] or higher — our heads of drama, comedy, current, alternative, daytime, scheduling are all women,” Kahl said. “Trusted talented colleagues. I feel fortunate to work with them. A lot of what you see on CBS is because of their real efforts … every female exec who came to see me this week, to be honest, were kind of dismayed by what they read.”

What about attracting talent? Have the accusations hurt the network there?

“We have strong ties to the creative community and are deep into development already,” he said. “I can tell you there is absolutely no slow down of people coming into the door wanting to pitch us shows.”

The company’s policy is to report any inappropriate behavior to HR. But hasn’t the #MeToo movement proven that that system — like the one at CBS — is broken? 

“I don’t believe that now,” Kahl said “I believe our HR department does a great job. You wouldn’t want them looking into you if they choose to investigate. They do a very thorough job. In cases where there’s any question, we retain outside firms. The bottom line is to get to the truth.”

The panel came after a week of “will they or won’t they?” speculation among the Hollywood press corps. As in: Will CBS go forward with their planned press presentation in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against Moonves? Or will the network cancel the affair to avoid a potential barrage of tough questions? In the end, Kahl — who ascended to the entertainment president’s seat just last May — elected to take the hot seat.

Later in the day, a truck circled the hotel holding CBS’ event with an electronic billboard declaring “Fire Moonves Now.”

Moonves was accused of unwanted and forceful sexual advances and inappropriately wielding his power at the network in a New Yorker profile published July 27. CBS has kept the longtime executive on board while outside firms investigate the allegations. The executive has denied the allegations while acknowledging he “may have made some women uncomfortable.”

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