ViacomCBS has tapped two media executives to oversee its unit responsible for shows like “60 Minutes” and “CBS This Morning” with Gayle King.
The owner of MTV and Nickelodeon named Hearst executive Neeraj Khemlani and former ABC exec Wendy McMahon as co-presidents of CBS News, taking over from current division president Susan Zirinsky after just two years.
Zirinsky, a well-respected TV news producer who inspired Holly Hunter’s character in “Broadcast News,” plans to remain in her current role until the newcomers are acclimated, the company said.
She will then take on a “significant role” at CBS News Content Studio, an as-yet-unlaunched unit that’s expected to be involved in video news production.
For both Khemlani and McMahon, the new gig represents a homecoming.
Prior to moving to Hearst 12 years ago, Khemlani worked as a producer at CBS’s “60 Minutes” for eight years. While at Hearst, he held various roles, including most recently as executive vice president and deputy group head of Hearst Newspapers. He previously oversaw Heart’s entertainment and syndication division responsible for its cable network partnerships with ESPN and A+E.
McMahon spent seven years at various CBS-owned TV stations before moving to rival ABC 12 years ago, where she most recently served as president of ABC-owned TV stations, including oversight of eight broadcast stations and local newsrooms.
Both execs will report to George Cheeks, president and chief executive officer of the CBS Entertainment Group.
“Wendy and Neeraj have the leadership background and cross-platform accomplishments that cover all these important areas, and they share our commitment for supporting superior journalism, optimal delivery platforms and the strongest of organizational cultures,” Cheeks said.
Cheeks had been mulling a co-president role while looking for a replacement for Zirkinsky, who sources say was unhappy with her corporate job and wanted to get back to news.
According to sources, Cheeks offered Zirinsky’s deputy, Kim Godwin, the co-president role, but she was insulted by the thought of sharing the job. Godwin recently nabbed the high-profile job as ABC News president, becoming the first black person to run a broadcast TV news division.
Zirinsky’s disdain for her role as CBS News president has been no secret since she grabbed the reins two years ago. Earlier this week, news leaked out that CBS had come to a mutual decision with Zirinsky to move her back to her journalism roots and out of the corporate hot seat.
Zirinsky, according to Page Six, once went so far as to hold up a piece of paper during a budget meeting that said “I hate my job” in protest of the boring affair.
A source told The Post that Zirinsky’s attitude bled into her work and that she appeared disorganized and scattered during meetings, spending too much money on talent and revamping the network’s last place evening news program, “CBS Evening News” hosted by Norah O’Donnell.
Some sources also claimed that she lacked the finesse when it came to massaging big egos and dealing with gripes by top talent.
CBS News did not comment. Zirinsky couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.
Zirinsky — known affectionately by CBS insiders as “Z” — has also played an important role at the company, including shepherding the career of Gayle King, Oprah Winfrey’s best friend and host of the network’s morning talk show.
It was under Zirinsky that CBS renegotiated King’s contract, rehauled “CBS This Morning,” and sent then-co-host Norah O’Donnell to anchor the evening news amid buzz that the two journalists did not get along.
In his memo announcing the new hires, Cheeks said: “Z has an incredible legacy of making CBS News stronger in every role she served over almost five decades, including meaningful accomplishments as its president. Z took the reins in March 2019 at a moment of turmoil in the division, creating stability and renewing passion for the brand internally and externally.”
Zirinsky, who has been at CBS News for nearly 40 years in various roles such as executive producer of crime show “48 Hours,” took the helm following a slew of sexual harassment and bullying claims that embroiled the company
Touted as an historic hire, Zirinsky was tasked with reorganizing the anchor line up at the network and revving up the ratings for its laggard shows like “CBS This Morning” and “CBS Evening News.”
But much of Zirinsky’s time was spent in meetings, dealing with corporate bureaucracy, job cuts and managing talent instead of amping up the network’s journalism, sources said.