11:00am PT by Lesley Goldberg, Kim Masters
Meredith Ahr Out as NBC's Top Unscripted Exec (Exclusive)
Top unscripted executive Meredith Ahr is out at NBC following an investigation into claims that she and former NBC entertainment president Paul Telegdy fostered a toxic culture at the network. The inquiry sprang from a Hollywood Reporter report on allegations of homophobic, misogynistic and racist behavior, especially within the network's reality division.
Sources say the investigator interviewed more than 60 current and former network employees and found that both Telegdy and Ahr's behavior was not in line with standards the company expects, especially from its senior leaders. Ahr's last day is today.
That inquiry was separate from a broader culture assessment ordered by NBCUniversal streaming and TV chairman Mark Lazarus, which has also concluded. It's unclear what that inquiry might have revealed; the next step will be to brief the new leadership of the company's television operations. NBCUniversal has recently undertaken a major restructuring in which Lifestyle Networks president Frances Berwick was elevated to a top business position overseeing NBC, USA and Syfy, among other networks and former Warner Bros. Television president Susan Rovner was hired to oversee content. Rovner, who officially started Oct. 5, is expected to install her own team of department heads. Telegdy, who was pushed out in August, will not be replaced as head of NBC.
As THR reported July 31, several current and former NBC insiders alleged that Ahr often egged Telegdy on in his alleged mockery of others, though at times she then switched course and restrained him with a look or murmur. But a former NBC exec says Ahr could reduce staffers to tears, and several current and former execs and insiders — separately and spontaneously — described a “mean girls” culture in the unscripted division.
Former America's Got Talent judge Gabrielle Union has recently settled her dispute with NBC but she had alleged that — among other conduct that she condemned — members of Ahr’s staff had relayed that her hair was “too wild” and needed to be “toned down” — notes that she said implied “that her hair was ‘too black.’” (Ahr was not mentioned in Union’s complaint, which cited Universal TV; Simon Cowell and his production company, Syco Entertainment; and Fremantle Productions).
During Telegdy’s time running the network’s unscripted division, insiders say Ahr became increasingly influential. The daughter of a Palm Beach doctor, Ahr started her career at NBC in 2001 as a page in New York, and her rise at NBC was meteoric. She was soon assigned to the office of then-NBCUniversal chairman Bob Wright. In 2004, she moved to L.A. as part of NBC's associates program and ultimately was assigned another powerful mentor: Ron Meyer, then president and COO of Universal Studios. Meyer, who became vice chairman of NBCUni in 2013, exited the company Aug. 18 after disclosing an affair and an alleged extortion attempt.
By 2016, Ahr had risen to president of the newly launched Universal Television Alternative Studios. By then, a former insider told THR, Telegdy “didn’t do anything without consulting [her], and she’s really the more punitive of the two.”
During their tenure, NBC came up with The Voice and AGT (though sources note that Telegdy’s predecessor as head of unscripted, Craig Plestis, found the formats for both). Telegdy and Ahr made both shows into hits and subsequently came up with Ellen’s Game of Games and The Titan Games. Ahr headed the unscripted division since 2018, and had worked with a series of top producers including Dwayne Johnson, Jennifer Lopez (World of Dance) and Ellen DeGeneres, among others. She also was charged with oversight of first-run syndicated shows, including Access Hollywood and The Kelly Clarkson Show.
A major round of layoffs is expected to come soon as part of NBCU's restructuring. NBC becomes the latest linear network to be put under the purview of an executive with a wider scope as the TV industry attempts to position itself for the streaming era and looks to trim costs amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. The realignment is expected to create millions in cost savings, with redundancies among programming, marketing and scheduling divisions expected to be eliminated in a bid to create a more unified and leaner company.