Smithsonian President Out as ViacomCBS Merges Branded Groups

Tom Hayden launched the niche cable network in 2006.
John P. Filo/Courtesy of Smithsonian Channel
Tom Hayden

The layoffs amid ViacomCBS' larger reorganization continue.  

Smithsonian Channel president Tom Hayden is the latest network exec to be dismissed as the conglomerate merges its four "branded groups" into one unified organization. Sources say that Paramount Network senior vp unscripted Lauren Dolgen is also among those who have been impacted by Wednesday's layoffs. 

Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that the cutbacks impacted executives who carried the senior vp title across Paramount Network and Comedy Central and, to a lesser extent, Nickelodeon. The latter network's exec vp Sharon Cohen also departed Wednesday as the kid-focused cabler's live events division was also impacted by the cutbacks.

Earlier on Wednesday, Sarah Babineau, Comedy Central's head of Comedy Central Content and Creative Enterprises, was pushed out a mere three months after she was elevated to the new role. Keith Cox, who was promoted alongside her at the time, will absorb her responsibilities in his role as president of ViacomCBS' Entertainment & Youth Studios. As part of that job, Cox already had oversight of Smithsonian.

ViacomCBS' Entertainment & Youth Studios group is overseen by Chris McCarthy, whose massive purview includes MTV, VH1, Logo, CMT, Comedy Central, Paramount Network, TV Land and Smithsonian Channel. McCarthy, who reports directly to ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish, discussed the company's changes in a memo to staff (read it in full below) in which he outlined the "final step" to merge the four branded groups. To that end, McCarthy said the move is part of a shift from cable to content and from strong siloed brands to one "powerful" entertainment portfolio.

Hayden, who helped launch Smithsonian Channel in 2006, will remain on through a transition period before departing at the end of May.

Hayden joined ViacomCBS-owned Showtime in 1989 and formed Smithsonian Channel, a joint venture between the Smithsonian Institution and Showtime.

The news comes hours after Bakish sent a memo to staff detailing plans to continue "to integrate and streamline our operations, manage our costs as diligently as we can, and follow through on our committed post-merger synergy targets."

For its part, Viacom — even before it was re-merged with CBS — has been consolidating its entertainment brands for the past few years under Bakish. Longtime Viacom execs Debra Lee (BET), Kevin Kay (Paramount Network), Kent Alterman and, before him, Michele Ganeless (Comedy Central), Cyma Zarghami (Nickelodeon), Larry Jones (TV Land) and Brian Philips (CMT) have all been pushed out under Bakish's regime. McCarthy has since doubled the number of networks he oversees.

McCarthy's memo follows.

Team, 

By now I’m sure you’ve heard, today we took the final step to merge our four branded groups into one unified creative organization.

To that end, we made the extremely tough decision to part ways with staff members across our teams. These changes were driven by two factors:

  • Shifting from cable to content which is at the center of everything we do
  • Moving from strong siloed brands to a powerful entertainment portfolio

We didn’t come to these decisions quickly or easily, but rather after a thoughtful process over the past few months. This new structure will take advantage of our full scale and shared expertise. More to come on that in the next few days.

As much as these changes are necessary, I know they aren’t easy on anyone — they shouldn’t be. We aren’t just saying goodbye to work colleagues, but our friends and family.  

Please join me in thanking those who are leaving and express our gratitude for their many contributions.

With appreciation,

Chris