Cyma Zarghami Exits Viacom as Sarah Levy to Lead Nickelodeon

The news comes as little surprise as the executive was the last of the old guard at the conglomerate.
Jim Spellman/WireImage; Courtesy of Viacom
Cyma Zarghami (left), Sarah Levy

It's the end of the Cyma Zarghami era at Viacom.

The conglomerate on Monday announced that Zarghami, a 30-year-plus Viacom veteran, is stepping down from her post as president of the Nickelodeon Group. As the company searches for a full-time replacement, Viacom Media Networks COO Sarah Levy will take over the kids-focused brand in an interim role.

"Over the course of her career, Cyma has played an integral role in growing Nickelodeon into the dominant force in kids’ entertainment," Viacom CEO Bob Bakish said in a statement. "Her instincts for creating content and experiences that kids love have been vital to the brand’s success around the world. Looking to the future, we are excited to build on this strong foundation as we continue to evolve the business and connect with young audiences in new and innovative ways. I want to extend my deepest gratitude to Cyma for her leadership and wish her every success.”

News of Zarghami's departure should come as little surprise. In February, Viacom expanded Levy's role as she added oversight of Nickelodeon (and BET) to a purview that already included operations and strategy for MTV, Comedy Central, VH1, Spike/Paramount Network, CMT, TV Land, Logo and Viacom International Media Networks. That meant there was an additional executive overseeing Nickelodeon alongside Zarghami, who had been head of the kids-focused cable network since 2006. Zarghami reported directly from Bakish. 

Zarghami, a staple on The Hollywood Reporter's annual Women in Entertainment power list, was nearing the end of her contract at the time of the February announcement. Sources at the time say the 32-year Nickelodeon veteran had no plans to leave the network despite having her role dramatically reduced in recent years. 

As part of Bakish's efforts to revitalize the media conglomerage, he regrouped Viacom's cable networks and moved TV Land and CMT from Zarghami's Kids and Family Group to the Global Entertainment Group overseen by Kevin Kay. 

In the year-plus since Bakish took over Viacom, he has made changes at all of its cable networks. Most recently, Debra Lee — who had been with BET for 32 years — stepped down last month. Scott M. Mills took over as president, with Viacom opting to not replace the executive as CEO and chairman of the African-American-focused cabler. Before that, Chris McCarthy took over MTV, VH1 and Logo; Kent Alterman replaced Michele Ganeless as president of Comedy Central; Kay replaced Sharon Levy at Spike, which was rebranded to become Viacom's general entertainment hub Paramount Network; and Brian Philips was pushed out after a 16-year run as CMT president, with Frank Tanki absorbing his role on top of his duties at TV Land. (Meanwhile, TV Land topper Keith Cox took on a larger role as head of development for the niche cabler as well as Paramount Network as TV Land is no longer buying scripted originals.) 

For her part, Zarghami joined Nickelodeon in 1985 and was tapped as president in 2006. Under her oversight, Nickelodeon became a leading brand for kids. Most recently, Nickelodeon and other kids-focused outlets like Disney Channel have faced mounting competition from deep-pocketed streamers Netflix and Amazon, who have expanded their purview to include youth-oriented fare. 

During the transition, Levy will work closely with Nickelodeon's leadership team to manage operations. The focus will be to launch the cabler's largest-ever content pipeline of more than 800 new episodes and accelerate its push into next-gen platforms, film, live experiences and consumer products. As part of that push, Nick revived 1980s staple Double Dare and Blue's Clues and is eyeing a reboot of Clarissa Explains It All with original star Melissa Joan Hart, with corporate parent Viacom betting on live events like SlimeFest and Comedy Central's Cluster fest in a bid to cut through a cluttered landscape and help make noise for both brands.

The changes come amid a potential merger between Viacom and CBS Corp.