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A little over a week after Leslie Moonves’ alleged past caught up with him, his programming chief was thrust on stage to take questions.
“Obviously, this has been a tough week at CBS,” Kelly Kahl began Sunday, standing before a sea of fast-typing reporters at the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour. Rather than immediately open himself up to a firing squad with Moonves-related questions, many of which he would not be able or equipped to answer, the exec used the opportunity to present a defense of his company’s culture.
“I’ve had many female colleagues come to me this week who’ve been saddened by what they’ve read about our company [in Ronan Farrow’s recent bombshell report in The New Yorker]. They said it does not represent their experience at CBS,” said Kahl, adding: “I’m not saying we’re perfect — no large company is — and there’s always room for improvement. But a lot of us have been here a long time precisely because CBS Entertainment is such a fulfilling place to work.”
The veteran exec, who has spent his entire career working for Moonves, also used his time before the press to speak specifically about his boss, as CBS Films chief Terry Press and late-night host Stephen Colbert had earlier in the week. “I know [Press and Colbert] both struggled to express their feelings [and] I struggle as well,” said Kahl. “Leslie has been an excellent boss and a mentor for a long time. He put me in this job. At the same time, we must respect the voices that come forward. All allegations need to be and are being taken seriously.”
And at that, Kahl opened himself up to questions, a move that garnered praise from nearly every raised hand in the Beverly Hilton ballroom. With only a handful of queries about CBS programming like The Big Bang Theory (per Kahl, they’re already in early talks to renew the long-running hit series), the half-hour session served as a tense back-and-forth about allegations against Moonves along with recently surfaced claims about other current and former CBS talent (NCIS: New Orleans‘ Brad Kern, Morgan Freeman and Jeremy Piven, among them). At multiple points during Kahl’s time onstage, the even-keeled executive found himself defending CBS’ HR department and relied on a set of prepared talking points about what he called the entertainment division’s “safe, collaborative and welcoming” environment.
To the end, Kahl suggested that his staff was “dismayed” by what they had read in The New Yorker, noting that that hadn’t been the experience of those he has spoken to. Asked whether he has had those conversations with any of CBS’ showrunners, Kahl acknowledged that he had not, adding that he’s seen no hit to CBS’ programming pipeline: “We’ve seen no slowdown of people coming through the door to pitch us shows.” He also used the opportunity to tout the percentage of women in positions of power at CBS, noting that 61 percent of executives at the vice president level or higher were women, as were nearly all department heads in the entertainment division.
The unenviable position Kahl found himself in comes as CBS announced mid-week that it had hired multiple law firms to lead its investigation into the network’s culture following Farrow’s bombshell report, which included allegations by six women who detailed incidents of sexual misconduct by Moonves between the 1980s and mid-2000s. Though there are rumblings of a second Farrow piece coming, Moonves has opted to stay put as the company’s leader and face.
In his own statement following the New Yorker story, Moonves admitted that “there were times decades ago when I may have made some women uncomfortable by making advances. Those were mistakes, and I regret them immensely. But I always understood and respected — and abided by the principle — that ‘no’ means ‘no,’ and I have never misused my position to harm or hinder anyone’s career.” He has since stepped down from the Anita Hill-led Commission on Eliminating Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace.
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