CMT President Brian Philips Exits After 16 Years

Brian Philips CMT - Publicity - P 2017
Courtesy of CMT

There's been another shake-up at Viacom's cable portfolio.

CMT president Brian Philips is leaving after 16 years at the network, The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed.

Philips announced his departure Thursday morning in an internal memo sent to staff. TV Land general manager Frank Tanki has been tapped to serve the same capacity at CMT and his duties will subsequently expand. Tanki was promoted to TV Land general manager in March after most recently serving as executive vp brand marketing and creative at Spike TV, which will rebrand as Paramount Network in the new year.

For CMT, the change in leadership comes in the midst of the channel's push into original scripted programming. In addition to original comedy Still the King and period drama Sun Records, the network is also now the home to Nashville after the country music drama was canceled in 2016 at ABC. CMT, along with partner Hulu, recently picked up the Lionsgate series for a sixth season. CMT is up 14 percent year-over-year among adults 18-49.

CMT had recently been in discussions to save another canceled ABC series, the Tim Allen multicamera effort Last Man Standing, but talks broke down over the show's high price tag.

Before joining CMT in 2001, Philips enjoyed a successful career in the radio world, winning the illustrious Rick Carroll Award for programming in Los Angeles in 1998, among other honors.

Philips becomes the latest head of a Viacom cable network to depart. Last year saw music and entertainment group president Doug Herzog — who oversaw MTV, VH1, Logo, Spike and Comedy Central — exit. He was followed by Sean Atkins, who opted to step down as MTV’s president a year into his tenure after hearing that VH1 and Logo topper Chris McCarthy would be brought in to help steer the ship. McCarthy became the cabler's third president in three years. MTV head of originals Michael Klein also stepped down at the music-themed network. 

Elsewhere, Nickelodeon president Russell Hicks exited his post following an 18-year run at the kids-focused unit. He was not replaced. Over at Comedy Central, Michele Ganeless passed on renewing her contract and departed as president of the cable network. Her second-in-command, Kent Alterman, was appointed Comedy Central president in May. 

Then there's TV Land, where Larry Jones — who steered the cabler into scripted originals — was pushed out and replaced by his second-in-command, Keith Cox, who has since been promoted to oversee both TV Land and Paramount Network. The latter, which is being rebranded from Spike TV, saw Cox replace Sharon Levy at the helm of the network. Over at BET, president and head of programming Stephen Hill also stepped down.
The shake-up comes as Kevin Kay was recently installed to oversee Paramount Network, TV Land and CMT as Viacom, under new CEO Bob Bakish, plans to focus on six core brands as part of the media conglomerate's rejuvenation. Those six brands are Paramount Network, Comedy Central, MTV, BET, Nickelodeon and Nick Jr.
Read Philips' memo below:

Today I’m writing to share the news that I’ve decided to step down as President of CMT.

For some time, I’ve been contemplating a change (more on that soon), but agreed to stay to help navigate through the recent exciting “brand renewal.” This was a tough decision; I remain a fan and champion of each of you. I love, live and breathe this brand. Change is difficult, especially after all we’ve endured together! Fortunately, we have the best senior staff team in place in our history, and I am confident they will continue the remarkable work we’ve done together. 

I cherish the time I’ve spent here with you over the last 16 years. I joined CMT as an ambitious-but-unenlightened wayward radio character. I had the early good fortune to learn from masters of the medium, the creative firebrands who built the glorious MTV Networks group. Later, learning from Nickelodeon’s geniuses was another invaluable experience. I’m glad I don’t have to list my many brilliant mentors here. They are known to all, of course, their names are legend.  

Most of all, I learned so much about TV from you, my awe at your abilities has simply never ceased. We at CMT grew up together and I’m forever changed and made better by each of you. I think of the early days when we worked from a shelled-out Opryland building on a dime-store budget, a small country music video jukebox in a town nobody wanted to visit. Fast forward to today, Nashville is one of the most vibrant cities in the world. CMT has forged its place in this dazzling new environment, all while remaining true to the brand promise.

I leave you as CMT enters what we all believe will be a very strong era. Ratings are up across all dayparts, driving more than 7 months of year-over-year growth. We’ve attracted new fans and advertisers with “Nashville” and successfully converted them to regular CMT viewership. Our creative resurgence continues and the channel looks better than ever! Recent CMT Music Awards and Crossroads have been widely acclaimed as two of the very best we’ve ever done. Our summer line-up of originals is solid, and we’re developing some innovative new series that will ensure our future.

I’ll be sticking around awhile to help with the transition and look forward to personal time with you. I will swing through NY and Hollywood offices to further express my gratitude. Your friendship and kindness mean the world to me, and all of the outrageous fun and laughter we’ve shared will be what I remember most fondly. Keep the faith.

More soon, but I wanted you to hear this first from me. Have a great holiday weekend!

With much love, Brian 

Jun. 29, 11:20 a.m.: Updated with Tanki's promotion to CMT general manager.