In one of the biggest personnel changes in the broadcast comedy business in years, network TV’s preeminent comedy development executive, CBS’ EVP Wendi Trilling, is leaving after a stint at the net spanning a quarter of a century. She will depart at the end of her contract in June after opting not to renew it.
“After more than 24 years at CBS, it’s time to take a breath and look toward a new challenge,” said Trilling. “I have been beyond fortunate to work for an incomparable leader and creative force in Leslie Moonves, and to have had a boss and mentor like Nina Tassler. I’ve had the singular experience of working with the very best writers, producers and directors in television comedy from the proud perch of the CBS Television Network, and that has been a true privilege. And most of all, I have been blessed to work with the same dedicated team of executives in Julie Pernworth and Edy Mendoza for the last 15 years. It has been a joy.”
Trilling, who shepherded to the screen a string of hit comedy series — 10 of which have gone to syndication — began confiding in friends and close associates back in January that she intended to leave in June. Despite her plans, Trilling remained involved in CBS’ pilot season from start to finish, including traveling to New York for the upfronts.
There is no official word on Trilling’s replacement but I hear that CBS will again reach to its executive bench for a smooth transition, with Trilling’s No. 2, SVP Pernworth, expected to succeed her boss of 15 years. As for Trilling, she is expected to take a break before deciding what to do next. I hear there is a producing deal on the table for her at CBS TV Studios should she choose to go into producing. Trilling is very close with new Disney-ABC TV Group president Ben Sherwood, which has triggered speculation about a possible role there, though I hear there is nothing in the works at the moment. I also hear that Trilling has indicated in conversations that she may leave show business altogether.
“Wendi is one of the most respected creative executives in our business,” said CBS Entertainment chairman Tassler. “Over the past 20 years, she has developed many of the biggest hit comedies on television and helped CBS build signature comedy nights. She is an accomplished executive with a passion for the creative process that I greatly respect, and a dear friend whom I will miss personally. Wendi started her career at CBS, and has devoted herself to this Network for more than two decades. All of us here wish her great success in her next chapter.”
Trilling was a copywriter at a Boston ad agency when she decided to make a change and move to Los Angeles. She took another job as a copywriter for a small LA agency but, two weeks into it, Trilling had lunch with Tim Flack, then-head of the CBS comedy department and an old family friend, seeking career advice. He stressed the importance of loving your job and encouraged Trilling to set up informational interviews with other CBS executives. One of them had an assistant opening in the network’s current department where Trilling started in 1990 — first as a temp then on a permanent basis. That led to a junior executive position and a move to CBS’ development department where she rose steadily through the ranks.
Trilling was named Manager of Comedy/Drama Series Development in 1992; Associate Director, Comedy Development in 1993; Director of Comedy Development in 1994; VP in 1997; SVP, Comedy Development in June 2000; and EVP Comedy Development in 2004.
Trilling, who has always kept a low profile, is credited with helping to put together and championing CBS’ long-running comedy Everybody Loves Raymond. She also was a big supporter of How I Met Your Mother, initially considered a risky proposition with its hybrid format, and nurtured the future hit, which took awhile to find an audience. Additionally, she was behind the Julia Louis-Dreyfus comedy The New Adventures Of Old Christine and fought for spec scripts 2 Broke Girls and Life In Pieces. The list of CBS comedy series Trilling developed through the years also includes The King Of Queens and Chuck Lorre’s Two And A Half Men, The Big Bang Theory, Mike & Molly and Mom.
Like most networks, CBS recently went through a rough patch in comedy. CBS is heading into fall with an all-single-camera new comedy lineup for the first time, pinning high hopes on newbies Life In Pieces and Angel From Hell. These will be the last CBS pilots that Trilling shepherded to the schedule in her final development season at the network.