Kevin Kay Bids Viacom Farewell With Moving Exit Memo: "Be Fearless"

The 25-year Viacom executive was pushed out as president of Paramount Network as part of the media conglomerate's latest restructuring. Friday was his last day.
Courtesy of Paramount Network

On his final day as a member of the Viacom family, longtime executive Kevin Kay encouraged his colleagues to "be fearless" in a moving memo sent to colleagues.

Kay was pushed out Oct. 25 as part of Viacom's latest restructuring. The exec was hand-picked to oversee Spike's rebranding as general entertainment destination Paramount Network and had oversight of Viacom's niche cable networks TV Land and CMT. But late last month Viacom CEO Bob Bakish — to whom Kay reported — announced the company would be consolidating its brand groups from five to four, with Comedy Central's Kent Alterman taking on Paramount Network and TV Land and Chris McCarthy, president of MTV, VH1 and Logo, adding CMT to his portfolio of music-centric channels. Kay's last day at Viacom was Friday.

Kay became the latest long-tenured senior executive to be shown the door at Viacom. In June, Nickelodeon Group president and 30-year Viacom vet Cyma Zarghami was pushed out after her role was significantly reduced and folded into Kay's Global Entertainment Group following Bakish's arrival. 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. 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, McCarthy took over MTV, VH1 and Logo; Alterman replaced Michele Ganeless as president of Comedy Central; Kay replaced Sharon Levy at Spike; 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.)

Here's Kay's farewell memo to his Viacom colleagues:

Colleagues,

My 25-year tenure at Viacom comes to an official end tomorrow. The last two weeks of celebrations with so many of you has meant the world. I count myself among the fortunate leaders to have steered at this company throughout a storied era of breaking new ground and I’m looking forward to seeing all of you usher the brands into the future.

Our business has changed rapidly in unprecedented ways over the past several years and there has been little time for reflection. This is the first moment in decades, that I can take a step back and appreciate the true breadth of our accomplishments together across many networks.

We tasked ourselves with being strategic about the evolving business, while holding true to the principle that bold ideas, world class execution and a strong point of view is the promised land. Together, we let that be the north-star of our relevancy.

Ultimately, what is very encouraging and currently undeniable is that “good is good” and the audience will find you anywhere, if they can count on you to tell them a GREAT story.

One of the many great gifts of leading content brands is finding and supporting some of the most talented people in the world. Artists in front of and behind the camera with vision, unique voices and a passionate point of view.

Parting words of wisdom for anyone interested? Bet on the talent and be fearless in backing those with the highest standards, that give you the hardest time, that push back, that won’t let you compromise their vision. Know that none of us can exist without creators who possess this level of intensity about their work. They are the best bet you’ll ever make and will lead you to what’s unique, original and extraordinary. That is the rarified air of what we do.

I’ve seen this in practice with everything I’ve ever been a part of making. There are way too many instances to detail here, but some you just never forget...

Steve Hillenberg came into my office to pitch... young, funny as hell and brilliant with an aquarium under his arm and a whole unique, now beloved universe in his mind. Spongebob changed our lives but it wasn’t an easy greenlight ( “he’s weird! he’ll never sell consumer products! he doesn’t have parents!”) So trust your instincts, choose your battles wisely friends and fight to bring them all the way home.

Also coming through the door was Brian Robbins and his partners with big ideas to break all the rules at Nickelodeon and in doing just that, defined an era with their content and his incredible eye for talent with "All That", "Kenan and Kel" and wait for it.... "Cousin Skeeter"! It was a joy to be his executive then and very cool to see him now at the helm of that same brand, poised to re-define it all over again.

In the sports arena, the Fertitta Brothers came to Spike on it’s first day of existence with the dream of taking the mixed martial arts mainstream with the UFC and I like to think we delivered on that promise, establishing the first new major sports franchise in many decades. That work will continue to expand with Bellator under Scott Coker’s unrelenting dedication and leadership.

I’ll never forget the pilot of Bar Rescue in which my friend Jon Taffer explained the best way to make a bar successful is to arrange the seating to create a “butt funnel” and force people to squeeze through small spaces. Not dissimilar to the new cable model.

On the pop culture front John Krasinski, Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Merchant had a passion project and posed a simple question; “Can this be a thing beyond a three minute segment?” The answer was an easy yes with Casey Patterson, Beth McCarthy Miller and all of the very talented people charged with making it. LL Cool J and Chrissy Teigen led "Lip Sync Battle" to becoming a global phenom and a multi-platform hit blowing the doors open for this current trend of big talent fronting variety and game shows in primetime.

Everyone’s hero and my twin, Dwayne Johnson, came to see us a few years back and told us he was building a content company that would change the game. We were among the first to sign up for his vision, which is now well on it’s way to total world domination and he has never forgotten the loyalty and faith.

Most recently, the day we started Paramount, we reached out for a script from brilliant writer and filmmaker Taylor Sheridan, knowing we could bring his rich world of characters to life with Kevin Costner and compete in the daunting world of big drama with "Yellowstone". All of you came together and broke through with a big HIT, in the most competitive landscape in the history of television. This was your first at bat with the network and I know you’ll continue to do extraordinary things with that wind at your back. You’ve opened the door for world class talent to follow.

The list is long and my pride in our work together is immeasurable.

I’ve had incredible, talented and dedicated leadership teams and colleagues over the years ...most recently and truly special are Niels, Frank, Keith, Laurel, Jen Clark, Kurt Patat, Scott Gregory, Scott Fishman, Scott Coker, Dave Schwarz, Jackie Barba, Eddie “Money” Dalva, Jon Slusser, Sean O’Neill and Doug Rosen. The experience of building brands together with all of you has been a joyride through every genre and a tremendous source of pride for all of us.

Changes like this are no longer endings in the new world order of entertainment. As I move into the next chapter of what the business is today, nothing would make me happier than to see all of you again on the other side, in ways we can’t even imagine yet.

I sincerely thank Bob, Shari and my mentors before them, Albie Hecht and Doug Herzog for the rich opportunities and most importantly all of you for your brilliance, support and partnership.

Until next time,

Kevin