CBS Entertainment President Kelly Kahl spent most of his executive session at the Television Critics Association summer press tour addressing questions about the sexual harassment allegations leveled against CBS CEO Leslie Moonves.
In a recent New Yorker report from Ronan Farrow, six women accused Moonves of sexual harassment between the 1980s and late aughts, while dozens more alleged a culture of harassment, intimidation and complicity, which reportedly extended from Moonves to the CBS News division and one of the network’s top-rated shows, 60 Minutes. According to the New Yorker report, “19 current and former employees alleged that Jeff Fager, the former chairman of CBS News and the current executive producer of 60 Minutes, allowed harassment in the division.”
CBS This Morning anchor Charlie Rose was fired from the CBS News series and his PBS show last November following multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, with the Washington Post reporting that Rose’s behavior was “flagged to managers at [CBS] as early as 1986 and as recently as April 2017.”
CBS is also conducting another investigation into former NCIS: New Orleans showrunner Brad Kern, who is still under an overall deal at the network, despite multiple allegations that the producer created “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,” and two previous HR investigations into his behavior, with inquiries “centered on allegations of sexual harassment, discrimination against women — particularly working mothers — and racially charged comments, among other issues.”
Despite these allegations, Kahl maintained that “we take workplace safety very seriously. If you look up and down the halls of CBS, you’ll find a very safe environment; we have over 40 shows in production, and the vast majority of those shows are excellent sets where everybody’s very happy and everybody’s very safe. Any time any allegation comes up on any of our shows, it’s investigated immediately… Any complaint, we have a procedure we follow, it goes to HR and sometimes to outside counsel if necessary. While maybe we are not perfect, we take everything seriously. At CBS or any other workplace, on a set or in the halls, everybody deserves a safe workplace.”
Kahl declined to comment on the alleged culture of harassment at CBS News or the decision to fire Star Trek: Discovery’s showrunners Gretchen Berg and Aaron Harberts, who were reportedly verbally abusive to the writing staff, since “Star Trek is a studio show, not a network show,” and he has no oversight over the CBS News division, only CBS Entertainment.
In his opening statement to reporters, Kahl reiterated that, “We are committed to a collaborative, inclusive, and safe workplace. I’ve had many female colleagues come to me this week and say they’re saddened by what they’ve read. They’ve said it does not represent their experience at CBS. We’re 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.”
Addressing the Moonves allegations, Kahl said, “In regards to Leslie, a few people at CBS have already attempted to put their thoughts into words. Terry Press, president of CBS Films, wrote eloquently about the situation, and Stephen Colbert spoke thoughtfully and powerfully on his show this past week. I know they both struggled to express their feelings, I struggled as well. 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 have come forward. All the allegations need to be, and are being, taken seriously. As you’ve read, two outside law firms have been retained to investigate. As you can imagine, the scope of what I can talk about today is limited, there’s simply nothing else I can say about Leslie or the current investigation.”
In response to the Kern allegations, he explained, “CBS Studios investigated Brad Kern in 2016, acton was taken after that investigation, there have been no complaints since. I’m troubled and frustrated that reports continue to come out in the press, and because of that we’ve opened up another investigation with outside counsel. The goal of any investigation, internal or external, is to get to the truth, and I believe they will get to the truth.”