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CBS' Nancy Tellem is in talks to step down from post

October 6, 2009 | 12:51 pm

A shake-up is in the works at CBS as CEO Leslie Moonves' longtime Hollywood lieutenant, Nancy Tellem, is looking to give up her day-to-day job to take on a more strategic role at the company.

As president of the CBS Television Studios Entertainment Group, Tellem has oversight of both the network's entertainment programming and its production arm as well as the partnership in the struggling CW Network. She has been talking to Moonves for the last several months about easing out of her current job in favor of a broader role that would allow her to become something of a troubleshooter for the company focusing on content and distribution challenges.

Currently, much of that is dealt with by CBS Interactive chief Quincy Smith, but he himself is often the subject of rumors about leaving the company. The New York-based Smith also does not have the programming experience of Tellem.

TELLEM Whether she will get her wish remains to be seen, but she has long ties to Moonves, going back more than 20 years when both were at Lorimar Television and, later, Warner Bros., and he would likely rather keep her at the company than cut her loose entirely. She joined Moonves at CBS in 1997 and ran business affairs before being promoted to entertainment chief of the network. She is one of the so-called Moonves mafia along with CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler, scheduling guru Kelly Kahl and CBS Television Studios chief David Stapf. News of Tellem's discussions to leave were first reported by Deadline.

Although Tellem is one of the highest-ranking executives at CBS, she has not been seen as a successor to Moonves. She is as low profile as he is flashy and has never been a fan of the spotlight, preferring to stay in the background and focus on deals, something that runs in her family. Her husband is sports agent Arn Tellem.

Also, her experience is more programming than Wall Street.  Of course, that was the case with Moonves as well, who was primarily seen as a Hollywood guy before becoming the face of the company after Mel Karmazin left then-CBS-parent Viacom in 2004 and CBS was split off into a separate company about 18 months later.

While Tellem wasn't Moonves heir-apparent, it does beg the question of who is. Fred Reynolds, the well-regarded CFO, left CBS earlier this year and was replaced by Joe Ianniello, who is on the rise but probably still a little too green to be seen as a successor. Moonves just turned 60 this week. Like an NFL franchise, you never know when your starting quarterback might go down. Disney has a strong bench with executives such as Disney-ABC Media Networks Co-Chairs Anne Sweeney and George Bodenheimer, CFO Tom Staggs and newly anointed studio chief Rich Ross. At Time Warner, underneath CEO Jeff Bewkes is Turner Broadcasting President Phil Kent as well as several in Hollywood including TV chief Bruce Rosenblum.

If Tellem does exit her current role, she's not expected to be replaced at least in the near-term. Instead, Tassler and Stapf would report directly to Moonves, who has been spending more time out here as of late with his wife, Julie Chen, who last month had their first child.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Nancy Tellem. Credit: CBS