Leslie Moonves has planted his flag on the Paramount mountain.
The Viacom co-prexy on Tuesday elevated some of his most trusted lieutenants to new positions at both the studio and network level (Daily Variety, Sept. 7). Shifts are designed to breathe new life into Par, in part by putting the studio in the hands of many of the same execs who led Warner Bros. Television during that studio’s halcyon days of the early 1990s.
The shuffle is Moonves’ biggest move since he assumed control of Par’s TV operations in May; last month, he reorganized Par’s international TV division.
Among the changes:
- CBS Prods., which co-produces the hit “CSI” franchise, will essentially cease to exist and will become part of an enlarged Paramount Network Television.
- Garry Hart, who has been at Par since 1993, will vacate his post as prexy of Paramount Television Prods. and segue into a contractually guaranteed production deal at the studio. He declined comment.
- Longtime CBS Entertainment prexy Nancy Tellem has been upped to prexy of the CBS Paramount Network Television Entertainment Group. Lengthily-titled division encompasses CBS Entertainment and Par.
- Eye drama topper Nina Tassler, who helped develop the “CSI” juggernaut, will take Tellem’s title as CBS Entertainment prexy.
- Dave Stapf, who had been head of current programming for the Eye, becomes president of the supersized Paramount Network Television, reporting to Tellem. Maria Crenna, who had led CBS Prods., has been upped to exec VP of the expanded studio, reporting to Stapf.
- Kelly Kahl, the Eye’s program planning and scheduling guru, will keep those duties and take on the new title of senior exec VP of programming operations. He’ll work to coordinate communication between the CBS and UPN programming divisions, as well as the networks’ respective operations in sales, marketing, affiliate relations and research and with the Viacom Television Station Group.
UPN, CBS News and CBS Sports will continue to report to Moonves, as will communications and marketing and Spelling Television. In addition, execs who currently report directly to Moonves — including Tellem and Kahl — will continue to do so, with Moonves retaining his chairman title at the Eye. Par’s domestic and international syndication units will not be affected, nor will King World Television.
Moonves also is keeping his post as chairman of CBS. Insiders expect David Brownfield, now VP of current programming, to replace Stapf as head of the department, while Laverne McKinnon — recently upped to senior VP of drama development — is in line to fill Tassler’s shoes.
Moonves expects allegiance from his staff, but in turn is fiercely loyal to his troops — which is why he’s worked with CBS’ top lieutenants since the days when most of them worked at Lorimar (which later evolved into Warner Bros. TV).
“There’s a big trust factor since we worked together for so long,” he said. “It’s very comforting that the same regime will come to different divisions.”
Moves had been expected since the moment Moonves officially took on oversight of Paramount TV earlier this year. Moonves said he took time to deliberately map out the merged CBS/Paramount structure.
“I knew I would have to do something like this, but didn’t quite figure out how the pieces would come together,” he said. “It took a while to achieve that. I knew it was real important that the network and the studio have a similar mindset. That’s one of the reasons why it made sense to bring them together.”
Stapf first began working with Moonves when both were at Warner Bros. TV; Stapf headed PR for the studio. The promotion makes Stapf the second publicity exec in recent years to head up a studio. Dana Walden, prexy of 20th Century Fox with Gary Newman, also rose from the praisery ranks.
As head of current programming, Stapf has been responsible for keeping existing CBS skeins fresh and turning struggling shows into hits. His influence has been felt on a number of Eye projects, from “Judging Amy” and “JAG” to such newer successes as “Without a Trace” and “Cold Case.”
Tassler, meanwhile, is considered the Eye’s hourlong hitmaker, boasting a string of successes in the drama arena that have helped CBS rise to the top of the total-viewer tally. She’s also been with Moonves since the Lorimar days.
Endeavor partner Paul Haas said he wasn’t surprised by the changes at CBS. “It makes sense for Les to keep his development staff in place,” Haas said. “And David Stapf has been brilliant in current programming. He’s gone from a guy handling publicity to a guy handling very high-level creative people on six out of the top 10 shows in television.”
In elevating his longtime No. 2 Tellem to oversee both network and studio, Moonves said he was playing to her strengths. Tellem is known first and foremost for her business affairs and management skills, even as she led CBS’ entertainment division to ratings dominance.
“Obviously the focus is the network, but we want to bring focus (to the studio) and make sure we’re more aggressive out there, and producing many more series,” Tellem said. “It’s a bigger canvas to work from.”
Back to the top
Under Tellem and Stapf, Moonves hopes to turn around a studio that has seen its primetime presence and fortunes diminish in recent years. Most recently, the studio said farewell to its long-running “Frasier” moneymaker, while its other big franchise, “Star Trek: Enterprise,” has been struggling. Despite being corporate siblings, it’s no secret CBS and Paramount didn’t get along — and rarely collaborated.
“We can’t have any division reporting to me that isn’t trying to win,” he said. “We need to bring some energy, some excitement. We want to make Paramount a great TV company.”
Moonves said Par will look to seal more deals as it ramps up production, as long as “they make sense” for both the studio and the network. Studio will produce for everyone — but, like rivals like NBC Universal and Touchstone, Moonves said the Viacom webs will get top priority.
“The goal is to supply programming to all the networks,” he said. “However, CBS and UPN are first among equals. Let’s call a spade a spade. They have to go hand-in-hand. Any network that doesn’t say (that their sister studio services them first) is not telling the truth.”
Stapf spent 13 years at Lorimar/Warner Bros. TV and began his career at Embassy TV, so he’s familiar with the studio world. But this will be the exec’s first time leading the charge as a seller. He’ll get some help in that arena from Crenna, who worked as a seller when she was at WBTV.
“This is not a normal track for one to follow,” Stapf said. “But it comes down to the writing and helping (showrunners) achieve their vision, whether it’s in PR or marketing or developing projects.”
Tassler, meanwhile, had originally been rumored for the Par job. But Moonves said that would have taken her too far away from her strengths as a network developer, while giving other nets a crack at tapping into her talents. And the new job elevates Tassler to the still-rarefied world of entertainment presidents.
“Ultimately I wanted her in charge of all creative programming at CBS,” Moonves said. “To have her at Paramount would have been a mistake. This is a far better position for her.”
Tassler said the new gig now gives her a chance to work closer with comedy chief Wendy Trilling, telepics/mini head Bela Bajaria, new alternative exec Chris Sloan and other department heads.
“There are obviously going to be changes in the very near future,” Tassler said of the network structure. “But the beauty is there are a lot of qualified people here.”
Having merged international operations and CBS’ and Par’s network TV businesses, Moonves said he’s done for now. That means King World and Paramount Domestic TV Distribution will remain separate, under the respective rules of Roger King and Joel Berman.
As for the extent of Moonves’ involvement moving forward, “It’s all a work in progress,” he said.
“Will I still be involved in picking pilots? Sure,” he added. “To the extent I was before, probably not, because I have to deal with bigger-picture things. Still, that’s my love.”