Fewer than 24 hours after Leslie Moonves was ousted from his position as CBS Corp. CEO amid sexual harassment and assault claims, CBS Entertainment president Kelly Kahl held a staff meeting to address the transition.
Kahl, who heads all entertainment programming for the CBS Television Network, notified executives early Monday that he would hold a meeting that day to discuss Moonves’ departure. Kahl, according to a network insider, sought to reassure staff members. At that Monday meeting, he said, “We’re going to be okay. The sun has come up today, and the sun will come up tomorrow,” and added that he had already spoken with new interim CEO Joseph R. Ianniello.
Workplace culture at CBS has come under intense scrutiny since allegations against Leslie Moonves of sexual harassment were published in two recent New Yorker articles, and Kahl told those assembled — a group that included personnel from network development, current programming, public relations, casting, and marketing — “If you see something, say something.” He encouraged anyone with workplace concerns to communicate them to human resources or upper management. When the floor was opened to questions, only one was asked.
Thom Sherman, who joined the network in 2017 as the top programming executive under Kahl, also spoke. “This is really hard,” Sherman said, noting that he had worked with Moonves for several years in Sherman’s previous role as development chief at the CW, a joint venture of CBS and Warner Bros.
Kahl held a second meeting to discuss the Moonves transition on Tuesday, using a regularly scheduled current-programming meeting as a forum to include employees who had been out of the office Monday for the Rosh Hashanah holiday. CBS Television Studios president David Stapf, who was out of the office on Monday for the holiday, held a similar meeting with his team on Tuesday. Both execs, sources close to them said, sought to reassure their staffs amid the fallout from the New Yorker articles and emphasize a forward-looking message.
The attitude of senior level executives in these meetings was described by one attendee as “heartbroken.” At none of the meetings did a female executive speak, and no one from human resources attended the meeting with network staff. Neither has there been any discussion at staff meetings of any policy changes regarding workplace harassment, nor communication about how to contact human resources.
Multiple CBS insiders speaking to Variety described an atmosphere at the company in recent days ranging from business as usual to resignation. “This is not business as usual,” one insider said, noting that executives have emphasized in meetings the need to stay focused at a critical time of year — the launch of the fall broadcast season is just two weeks away — but have not initiated any in-depth discussion of workplace culture.
Another source credited Kahl, who walked the halls to speak with staffers after the first New Yorker article was published in August, for providing visible leadership at the network amid the uncertainty surrounding Moonves. At the Television Critics Association summer press tour last month, Kahl drew positive reviews for fielding questions just days after the first allegations against Moonves surfaced. In the weeks since the publication following the first New Yorker article, Moonves made no attempt to engage employees regarding the allegations against him or the controversy generated by them, drawing widespread internal criticism.
Another CBS insider noted that the second New Yorker article — which contained allegations even more severe than the first — came as an upsetting surprise, but that staffers, who had been reading speculation about Moonves’s departure in the press since last week, had come to anticipate that the end was nigh for the longtime chief executive. The person added, “At least this gives it some resolution.”