CBS interim CEO Joe Ianniello is assembling an executive team that complements his strengths. In a rapid series of appointments, he’s racing to stabilize the scandal-shocked media company and perhaps cement his place at the top.
The decision to elevate Showtime boss David Nevins to chief creative officer addressed one of the longtime finance executive’s perceived weaknesses, his lack of programming experience. It also is a signal to the CBS board that Ianniello is listening, and acting quickly, when directors insisted he streamline the reporting structure, sources say. Former Chairman and CEO Les Moonves had an unusually large number of direct reports. The promotion of Nevins addresses that.
Nevins is one of the most highly regarded creative executives in the industry, the deft hand behind Showtime staples like Homeland, (his first green-light upon arrival in 2010), Ray Donovan and Billions, plus the buzzy, hyper-arty Twin Peaks reboot. Nevins fills a void left by the resignation of Moonves, who built CBS into the most-watched network on the air for nearly 20 years running.
The Showtime chief can flex an estimable list of talent relationships he has built since his prior stints at Imagine Television and NBC, which can keep prestige projects coming across the transom. CBS needs no help in the total-audience department and remains a juggernaut. It has struggled to win over TV critics or award-show voters since The Good Wife left the air in 2016.
The executive move is one of a series of steps Ianniello has taken to calm a company rocked by scandal and tainted by reports of a toxic culture toward women. Within a week of his appointment, he pledged to reform the CBS workplace culture and make it more inclusive. Then, he elevated two female executives, Laurie Rosenfield and Christina Spade, to key C-level positions.
Taken all together, these actions suggest Ianniello has looked to define his tenure as distinct from his predecessor and poised to move CBS into a new era.
As the new strategy takes shape, Wall Street could get some insight into Ianniello’s thinking on November 1, when CBS reports third-quarter earnings and conducts a conference call with analysts.
One person familiar with the matter said Ianniello’s executive appointments came at the direction of the revamped CBS board, which found that Moonves had amassed too many direct reports. It asked Ianniello to fix the reporting structure, which he did promptly, selecting executives of Nevins’ caliber, in a signal to the board of his ability to execute change.
Ianniello had been designated Moonves’ successor before the series of damaging allegations led to the longtime CEO’s resignation in early September. Many outsiders viewed Ianniello’s long professional partnership with Moonves as a liability, clouding his prospects of claiming the corner office.
It is unclear whether Ianniello’s reforms will be enough to win over the CBS board, which is now chaired by ex-Time Warner CEO Dick Parsons. The other crucial judge of the new structure, of course, is the company’s controlling shareholder, Shari Redstone. The National Amusements chief is said to have questions about Ianniello’s suitability as the new CBS CEO.
One industry insider says Redstone and the board may be giving Ianniello an opportunity to prove himself, even as the industry speculates on other outside candidates for the job, including former CBS Entertainment executives Nancy Tellem and Nina Tassler, Disney’s former chief operating officer, Tom Staggs, and Turner’s recently departed CEO, John Martin.
Positions like these are difficult to fill, notes the insider, especially given the company’s culture problems. Increasingly, business executives, not creative types, are assuming the helm of entertainment companies. (Viacom CEO Bob Bakish is just one example of this trend.)
Investors, so far, seem to appreciate seeing Ianniello’s familiar hand on the tiller. CBS shares have risen 7% since the week of September 3, when word emerged that Moonves was negotiating his exit. They closed today at $56.17, which is more than $2 higher than when the New Yorker published the first set of allegations against Moonves and within $5 of their 52-week high.