Beverly Hills, Calif. • Kelly Kahl is a brave man. The president of CBS Entertainment showed up at his network’s portion of the Television Critics Association press tour and took a lot of tough questions under the most difficult of circumstances while the chairman of the company, Leslie Moonves, faces allegations of sexual harassment.
As Kahl was doing so, a billboard truck calling for Moonves to be fired was circling the Beverly Hilton.
There were reports that Kahl would skip the session. That CBS could cancel all of its sessions. “Well, we wanted to be here,” Kahl said, adding that “literally thousands of talented producers, writers, actors and crews, not to mention all the people at CBS” have been working hard “for months to launch the fall season … and we think they deserve our best efforts to share all the new shows with all of you.”
Kahl knew it wouldn’t be easy. He did it anyway.
Not surprisingly, he didn’t comment directly on the Moonves situation, except to say that CBS Entertainment is “committed to a collaborative, inclusive and safe workplace.” And he said he’s struggling with the allegations against Moonves, whom he called “an excellent boss and a mentor. … At the same time, we must respect the voices that come forward. All allegations need to be and are being taken seriously.”
(Two outside law firms are investigating.)
“It’s a pretty safe bet that not much I can say up here is going to satisfy all of you or answer all of your questions,” Kahl said. Including questions about allegations against the executive producers of “NCIS: New Orleans,” “Madam Secretary,” “Star Trek: Discovery” and “60 Minutes.” And repeated questions about the culture at CBS and the company’s human resources department.
Kahl stuck to his guns. He deflected questions about CBS News and the CBS All Access streaming service, which he does not oversee.
It was a tough session, but Kelly remained calm and professional. The big thing is — he showed up. He didn’t run and hide.
Which brings us to his counterparts at ABC and NBC, neither of whom is scheduled to appear here at the TCA press tour — as has been the tradition for decades. ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey dodged because her boss, Disney chairman Bob Iger, was talking earnings that day and she didn’t want to upstage him … but that excuse only goes so far. She hid in the hotel, doing a few hand-picked interviews … which undercut her excuse. She got a lot of support from critics when she fired Roseanne Barr, but, apparently, she didn’t want to be peppered with questions about why ABC hired Barr in the first place despite her history of racist/offensive tweets.
As for NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt, I honestly have no idea what he might be afraid of. Things are going rather nicely at his network these days.
This is not about the ego of TV critics. It is about our ability to do our jobs. It’s about the importance of the people who are responsible for what we see on TV — who use the public airwaves — facing the press and, by extension, the public.
Yes, we ask some dumb questions sometimes. But meaningful issues are addressed, from the #MeToo movement to diversity on TV.
A year ago, Kahl was pilloried for CBS’ lack of diversity; this year, there’s diverse casting on all of his new fall shows and the network has made strides behind the camera.
That sort of got lost because of the Moonves situation. But significant questions were asked and, to the best of Kahl’s ability, answered.
ABC and NBC were not represented as CBS was, to their detriment.
“I value this event,” Kahl said. “I value our relationship and what we do here.”
ABC and NBC demonstrated that they don’t.