CBS tapped two veteran media executives to oversee a sweeping reorganization of the company that aims to merge its flagship broadcast news division with ViacomCBS’ 29 network-owned local television stations.
In a press release on Thursday afternoon, CBS announced that Hearst executive vice president Neeraj Khemlani and ABC television president Wendy McMahon will serve as the news division’s new co-presidents, merging together CBS News and CBS television stations under one corporate roof.
The move will make Khemlani, a former associate producer on 60 Minutes and before that on 60 Minutes II, the first Asian American man to run the network’s news division, albeit with McMahon as a co-equal partner—replacing current network head Susan Zirinsky following a tumultuous tenure that lasted just two years.
“They will need to build a personal relationship and they will have to trust each other,” former CBS News President Andrew Heyward told The Daily Beast about the unusual network news co-presidency. Heyward, who knew and respected Khemlani at CBS and has applauded Murphy’s work at ABC without having met her, added that neither executive is known for micromanaging and will likely allow CBS’ veteran journalists to do their jobs without interference.
The network hopes Khemlani, who oversaw the Hearst partnerships with ESPN and A&E, will be able to grow its television audience while bringing digital news experience to the network’s online and streaming platforms. McMahon, who previously worked at CBS and was also known for digital innovation at the Disney-owned network, this week stepped down as president of ABC Owned Stations, where she oversaw the Disney empire’s eight local broadcast stations as well as its streaming platforms. Prior to that, she worked at KABC Los Angeles and CBS-owned stations WBZ Boston and WCCO Minneapolis.
But while television news insiders had gossiped about the Zirinsky succession drama for days, Thursday’s most impactful announcement could be the network’s major reorganization, which now gives the heads of CBS News greater influence over the nationwide network of CBS stations, and vice versa. Network insiders pointed out to The Daily Beast immediately following the news that the move seemed aimed at forcing the national network and local television stations to adopt more common goals—historically not always the case at the company—and share corporate resources.
It could potentially lend more authority to the coverage of breaking news around the country, relying on local television journalists steeped in their communities instead of sending national correspondents from New York, Washington, or Los Angeles to parachute into natural disasters and other tense situations
The hiring and reorganization come at a tumultuous moment for the broadcast network.
Ratings for its flagship programs including CBS This Morning and CBS Evening News have sagged, while it was forced to lay off staff amid the advertising downturn last year triggered by the spread of the coronavirus. Its most highly-rated program, 60 Minutes, has also faced criticism in recent days for a flawed segment about the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine in Florida.