When Nancy Tellem talks about teamwork at CBS, she’s really not spinning a line of corporate happy-speak.
Tellem oversees both the CBS Television Network and production arm CBS Paramount Network Television as well as a big chunk of the net’s Web initiatives and the Eye’s 50% stake in the CW — a gig that gives her plenty of power. But you won’t hear many reports coming out of Television City about Tellem trying to micromanage those who work for her.
“We really have an amazing collaborative process,” Tellem says.
For the most part, that means Tellem lets CBS Entertainment prexy Nina Tassler and CBS Paramount chief David Stapf do their jobs without a lot of second-guessing.
The strength of their relationship was tested during the past year, when Tassler made it clear she wanted to shake up the Eye’s development slate, which had been getting a bit too dependent on crime procedurals. Tellem could’ve balked at such a risky move, but she had actually had the same idea about the need for change, and together the two made sure CBS Corp. supremo Leslie Moonves was onboard.
“Every day (during development season) we said, ‘Let’s push ourselves, let’s not do things that are safe,'” she says.
Tellem, 54, has been front and center for another roll of the dice at CBS. The net that a few years ago seemed a bit gun-shy about all things digital is now being distributed all over the World Wide Web, giving CBS Corp. a whole new stream of revenue.
As excited as she is by the possibilities, the ex-business affairs exec in Tellem prevents her from getting carried away by the lofty rhetoric that often surrounds all things tech related.
“Certain assumptions we’ve all made are correct, but most of them are incorrect,” she says. “… Whatever model you create today will most likely not make sense a few months from now.”
Vocation: “I see my job (as) very much a collaborative effort of all the execs on the studio and network side. I help facilitate our vision.”
Recent breakthrough: “Coming from the depths of where CBS was to being the No. 1 most-watched network — it’s been a 10-year progression.”
Role model: “My mother. She’s 93 years old. She was a medical doctor — started from nothing and built a medical practice. She showed me the importance of balancing work and family.”
Career mantra: “Pursue your passion. Always try to challenge yourself. And put in the necessary time to be the best at what you do.”
What’s next: “Right now, more than at any time, we’re experiencing a sea change in the business. Trying to figure out where the business goes next is the challenge.”