UPDATED 12:47 a.m. Glenn Geller is stepping down from his role as CBS Entertainment president, two months after suffering a mild heart attack. CBS has opted to reconfigure its entertainment leadership, with plans to promote longtime scheduling chief Kelly Kahl and recruit Thom Sherman from the CW.
Kahl, a 21-year CBS veteran who is one of CBS Corp. chief Leslie Moonves’ most trusted lieutenants, has been named the new president of CBS Entertainment. Sherman, who has been with CW since 2006 and has been a key architect of its recent success with superhero actioners and offbeat dramedies, will be senior executive vice president of programming for CBS. The network announced the new roles for Kahl and Sherman Tuesday afternoon. News of Geller’s departure and Kahl and Sherman’s ascension first broke Tuesday morning in Variety and other outlets.
Kahl impressed the industry when he was tapped to handle a big portion of CBS’ May 17 upfront presentation to advertisers at Carnegie Hall. Kahl has been CBS’ scheduling chief for nearly 20 years, but he had never handled the rundown of CBS’ new schedule on the big stage, until this year when he was needed to fill in for Geller. Kahl’s confidence on stage sparked immediate speculation that he was in line for an expanded role given Geller’s health concerns.
Sherman has a deep background in creative development, having served as president of J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot banner and as an ABC drama development exec before his CW tenure. Kahl has been a longtime steward of the CBS programming brand with an innate sense of what works and what doesn’t on the broadcast platform. He’s also been a CW board member, representing CBS’ interest in the joint venture with Warner Bros., for years.
“This is a dynamic, talented and very experienced executive team to lead a division that will create the next generation of hits for CBS,” said Moonves. “Kelly has been part of my team since he was an intern at Lorimar 27 years ago,” added Moonves. “He has a brilliant programming mind, sharp business acumen and great analytical skills for our evolving television audience. He is also highly respected by his colleagues at CBS and our key external stakeholders, and he knows how to make all parts of the network work together to form a winning team.”
Moonves added, “Through our work at The CW, I’ve had a front-row seat to see Thom’s outstanding creative instincts and programming vision in action,” continued Moonves. “He has developed and nurtured an incredible roster of critically acclaimed, commercially successful and fan favorite shows for The CW and other companies. He also has strong relationships across the community, a deft creative touch and a desire for making shows that create a passionate bond with the audience.”
CBS confirmed that it is in discussions with the Geller for a production deal. Geller had been head of current programming before succeeding Nina Tassler as CBS’ president of entertainment in the fall of 2015. It’s understood that Geller met with Moonves last week and asked to transition to a new role in light of suffering a heart attack at the age of 45. CBS sources emphasized that it was Geller’s decision to leave the entertainment president post. During his short tenure, CBS delivered a hit drama with the Michael Weatherly starrer “Bull,” while the track record in comedy and unscripted has been mixed.
“We have great respect for Glenn’s many accomplishments and his tireless efforts over 16 years at CBS – both at the Network and our Studio,” said Moonves. “He’s a smart programmer and loves the creative process, and we look forward to working with him in his new role.”
In March, Geller sent a memo to staff saying that he would take a leave of absence and would return to work at the end of May. His heart attack had occurred two weeks earlier, and he had been at home resting since that time. Geller has said that doctors assured him that he was “on track for a full recovery.” Moonves made no leadership changes following Geller’s heart attack, which came seven weeks before the network’s 2017 upfront presentation.
Under Geller, CBS continued its strong performance in primetime total viewers, leading all of television with an average of 9.6 million in Nielsen most-current data for the 2016-17 season — the 14th time in 15 years that the network has lead by that metric. But CBS also finished the season third of the Big Four in the 18-49 demo, falling behind NBC and Fox with a 1.8 rating, staying only two tenths of a point ahead of ABC. CBS has in recent years developed sturdy dramas such as “Bull” and “Scorpion,” but has failed to launch a buzzy, breakout show that fares as well in the 18-49 demo as Fox’s “Empire” or NBC’s “This Is Us.”
Nor has it developed a successor to its top-rated series, Chuck Lorre comedy “The Big Bang Theory.” CBS and producer Warner Bros. negotiated a two-season renewal for the show this spring, after which the multicamera comedy is expected to end.
At the CW, Sherman leaves behind a development team led by scripted programming senior VP Gaye Hirsch. In January, Hirsch took over over as sole head of scripted development, reporting to Sherman, after sharing responsibility with Joanna Klein, who departed the network in August to join Lifetime.