Chief filling Klein post

John Severino, one of broadcasting’s most colorful figures during the 1970s and ’80s, is in serious talks with CBS to take the helm of the Eye’s O&O group.

Severino, who was the longtime general manager of KABC Los Angeles and former prexy of the ABC network, would replace departing CBS Television Stations president Jonathan Klein.

A CBS spokesman said Wednesday that the company would not comment on “rumors and speculation.” Severino did not return calls seeking comment.

But sources close to the situation said that CBS has been talking with Severino for at least several weeks. There’s talk that the new occupant of the O&O post will report to CBS prexy Leslie Moonves, who is based in L.A., rather than Mel Karmazin, the Eye’s Gotham-based CEO.

There’s also speculation that the O&O chief will be handed the direct responsibility for righting the ship at the Eye’s ailing Los Angeles O&O. KCBS has been without a general manager since last September, when John Culliton was axed after two years at the post.

Severino has a long history in the Los Angeles market. He served as general manager of KABC during the station’s boom years from 1974 to 1981 and again from 1985 to 1988, following his four-year stint as ABC network prexy. He began his career in 1965 as a sales exec with the ABC flagship WABC New York.

During his tenure at KABC, Severino helped develop the ABC O&O group’s hugely successful, fast-paced “Eyewitness News” format, and he made lighthearted local productions like “A.M. Los Angeles” and “Eye on L.A.” a staple of the station’s nightly sked.

Severino famously championed the station’s much-lambasted, and now much-imitated, practice of running titillating news reports during sweeps, like in-depth reports on lesbian nuns, Elvis sightings and, in the most brazen incident, a profile of Nielsen families that not surprisingly sent KABC’s numbers through the roof.

As network prexy, Severino was equally vocal, defending the web’s right to deliver lowbrow, raunchy telefilms for the sheer entertainment value. But at the same time, he was an equally passionate advocate for TV tackling serious issues and taboo subjects like incest in the landmark 1985 telefilm “Something About Amelia.”

Severino left KABC in 1988 for a four-year stint as prexy of the Prime Ticket regional sports cabler, which subsequently became Fox Sports West. In the mid-1990s, Severino was CEO of a German TV venture run by Central European Media Enterprises.

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