Ronan Farrow’s recent New Yorker piece reporting several allegations of sexual harassment against CEO Leslie Moonves also investigated the larger culture at CBS, particularly given reports of inappropriate conduct at CBS News. But CBS Entertainment president Kelly Kahl told reporters on Sunday at the Television Critics Association press tour that this is not the case inside the company’s west coast programming unit.
“I’ve had many female colleagues come to me this week who have been saddened by what they read about their company. It does not represent their experience at CBS,’ Kahl said. “I’m not saying we’re perfect, no large company is. 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. Even with all that’s going on around us, we’re running our business. We have the best execs in television and we’re doing our jobs.”
As the CBS Corporation board continues its investigation of Moonves’ actions Kahl kept his comments about his boss to a minimum.
Kahl noted recent statements about Moonves by CBS Films president Terry Press and “The Late Show” host Stephen Colbert. “They both struggled to express their feelings, and I struggle as well,” he said. “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. As you can imagine, the scope of what I can talk about today is limited. There’s nothing more I can say about Leslie or the current investigation.”
Speaking about his division, Kahl pointed out that most of CBS Entertainment’s department heads are women, including the heads of drama development, comedy development, current programming, alternative, daytime, and scheduling. According to Kahl, 61 percent of executives at vice president or higher are women. And until recently, CBS Entertainment had been led by Nina Tassler, a strong supporter of womens’ rights causes.
“The culture of the entertainment division is very safe, very collaborative and very welcoming,” he said. “When problems pop up we do investigate. I’m confident CBS Entertainment is a welcoming and safe culture…I believe we take workplace safety very seriously. If you walk up and down the halls of CBS you’ll find a very safe environment.
“Any time any allegation comes up on any of our shows it’s investigated immediately,” he added. “There’s no wiggle room there. Any complaint we have a procedure we follow, it goes to HR and sometimes to outside counsel if necessary. Maybe we’re not perfect, but we take everything seriously.”
Kahl was also asked about the status of now-suspended “NCIS: New Orleans” producer Brad Kern, who has been the subject of multiple investigations into his behavior. As reported by several news organizations — including most recently by Maureen Ryan at Vulture, Kern nonetheless recently signed a new deal with CBS TV Studios. But after new complaints came to light, he was demoted from showrunner to consulting producer, and has been suspended since mid-June, after reports came to light. Ryan wrote that she spoke to “dozens of individuals who have accused him of creating toxic, sexist, and vindictive work environments — not just at ‘NCIS: New Orleans,’ where he began working in early 2016, but over a period of more than 20 years, at shows like ‘Human Target’ and ‘Charmed.'”
“I believe they will get to the truth,” Kahl said of the new investigation. “Everything is investigated and the result is to find the truth. I believe both in our HR department and any outside counsel.”
But beyond that, reporters also noted that several other CBS producers and stars have been accused of harassment, including Morgan Freeman.
Farrow’s exposé featured six women accusing Moonves of making unwanted sexual advances on them, including actress Illeana Douglas. The allegations date back as far as the 1980s.
Four of the women accuse Moonves of “forcible touching or kissing during business meetings, in what they said appeared to be a practiced routine,” while two told Farrow that the executive “physically intimidated them or threatened to derail their careers;” all claim that he grew “cold or hostile” after they rejected his advances.
“Throughout my time at CBS, we have promoted a culture of respect and opportunity for all employees, and have consistently found success elevating women to top executive positions across our company,” Moonves said in a statement to Farrow. “I recognize 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. This is a time when we all are appropriately focused on how we help improve our society, and we at CBS are committed to being part of the solution.”
Following the story’s publication, the CBS board of directors issued a statement that said, “All allegations of personal misconduct are to be taken seriously. The Independent Directors of CBS have committed to investigating claims that violate the Company’s clear policies in that regard.”
Besides Moonves, Farrow’s story also centered on allegations against “60 Minutes” executive producer Jeff Fager, and the environment inside CBS News. News reports on Sunday morning said Fager, who had been on vacation, would not return to work as planned on Monday, as CBS’ internal investigation in alleged misconduct continues.
Kahl said he agreed to still appear in front of the TV Critics Association to answer questions about the network in part to support “the thousands of talented producers, writers, actors, and crews [on our shows], not to mention everyone at CBS… we’re running our business, we have the best execs in television and we’re doing our jobs.”