EXCLUSIVE UPDATED: George Cheeks has resigned from NBCUniversal after eight years, I have learned. The move comes three months after NBCU implemented sweeping changes, restructuring its broadcast, studio and digital operations and assigning new roles to a number of the company’s top TV executives, including Cheeks.
His departure also comes several weeks after NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke announced that he will step down, with Jeff Shell succeeding him.
Chatter grew louder today that Cheeks, a former Viacom executive, may be headed to ViacomCBS for a job on the CBS side of the company as potential successor to Joe Ianniello, who has been acting CEO on an interim basis. A source close to the situation confirmed to Deadline late tonight that Cheeks is in advanced talks with ViacomCBS. He is said to have a good relationship with ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish. The news of Cheeks joining CBS caught many executives there by surprise Tuesday evening.
Under the recent restructuring, Universal Television and Universal Content Productions were combined into a single business unit named NBCUniversal Content Studios, with Bonnie Hammer at the helm. Cheeks, previously co-chairman of NBC Entertainment, was named vice chairman of NBCUniversal Content Studios, reporting to Hammer. Known as a strong dealmaker, he continued to oversee late-night programming for NBC.
“George Cheeks, who has done an outstanding job along with Paul Telegdy leading NBC Entertainment, will become Vice Chairman of the new studio business,” Burke said in announcing the restructuring.
Cheeks had been a rising star at NBCU under Burke with a string of promotions and moves around the company in senior positions. He was named co-chairman of NBC Entertainment alongside Telegdy in 2018. In 2016, he was appointed as President, Business Operations and Late Night Programming.
Cheeks, who joined NBC in 2012 as EVP Business Operations, added late-night responsibilities to his purview in 2014 when he was named EVP Business Operations and Late Night.
Prior to NBC, Cheeks spent 14 years at Viacom in New York, beginning in 1998 as senior counsel for MTV Networks in business and legal affairs for the Nickelodeon Group, ultimately rising to EVP Business Affairs and General Counsel, Viacom Music and Entertainment Groups, Content Distribution & Marketing and Head of Standards & Practices for Viacom Media Networks.
Ianniello, a longtime former No. 2 during the regime of CEO Les Moonves, was installed as interim boss in the fall of 2018 amid a turbulent period for the company. After Moonves faced accusations of sexual assault from a dozen women, he was ousted and CBS undertook a massive revamp of the operations of the 90-plus-year-old media mainstay.
A ViacomCBS rep declined to comment on reports about Cheeks when contacted by Deadline.
Viacom and CBS, which long shared a common controlling shareholder in National Amusements, are barely a month into their long-awaited reunion, having closed their merger in early December. Ianniello’s tenure has appeared for some time to likely be short-lived, and many other members of the Moonves management team have been swept out in a massive reworking of the company. And yet, several CBS vets have also fortified their positions in the new entity during this transitional period, meaning Cheeks’ role may not end up being an exact replica of Ianniello’s. Sales, distribution and digital executives have all emerged as leaders of consolidated divisions of ViacomCBS.
The combined company has promised Wall Street it will realize $500 million in cost savings from the merger by 2021. Earlier Tuesday, the international side of the company set a restructuring. It is expected that a formal announcement of Cheeks’ new role would be accompanied by a U.S. restructuring.
Dade Hayes contributed to this report.
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