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- Susan Zirinsky is dropping some big hints that she is unhappy with aspects of her role, leading to speculation that there may be changes at the top of CBS News, sources said.
- They said while she’s passionate about producing, administrative and financial aspects of her role are getting her down. Speculation about who could replace her is mounting.
- A CBS News spokeswoman declined to comment but pointed to an internal memo from CEO George Cheeks praising Zirinsky; parent ViacomCBS also declined to comment.
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Susan Zirinsky, the producer who helped inspire the movie, “Broadcast News,” is dropping some big hints that she is unhappy with aspects of her role, leading to speculation that there may be changes at the top of CBS News.
Four news industry sources, two with inside knowledge and two close to the situation, told Business Insider that Zirinsky is sharing that the administrative and financial aspects of her role are getting her down, even while she is still passionate about producing.
“She’s been noisy about being miserable,” said one of them, who is close to CBS News. Another person said: “She has not been shy about telling people she is miserable in the job,” adding, “Everyone is campaigning for the job.”
Zirinsky’s new boss, CBS chief executive George Cheeks, who joined earlier this year from NBCUniversal, is in the midst of reviewing CBS News as part of a companywide review. Senior CBS insiders have been quietly soliciting names in case Zirinsky should decide it’s time to step down, this person said.
A CBS News spokeswoman declined to comment but pointed to an internal memo from Cheeks praising Zirinsky, who just received the prestigious National Press Club’s Fourth Estate Award, which was also bestowed on legendary CBS News man Walter Cronkite. CBS’ parent company ViacomCBS also declined comment.
Zirinsky, who is beloved by the CBS News old guard and is known by the nickname “Z,” stepped into the role in January 2019, breaking ground as the first woman to lead a news division at a broadcast network. “She’s got immense loyalty. Everybody loves her,” said one of the four sources, who has worked with her.
Zirinsky took power in the middle of a major misconduct scandal
She took over in the middle of a corporate crisis where an outside law firm investigated misconduct allegations against the former CBS chief executive Leslie Moonves, who denied wrongdoing and was ousted from his post. The rocky period also saw the departure of Charlie Rose, who had anchored the morning news show with Gayle King and Norah O’Donnell.
Zirinsky retained her title as senior executive producer when she became president, according to her LinkedIn account, and isn’t likely to exit the company even if there’s a role change, with two sources speculating she’s likely to remain at CBS producing major news specials. Other insiders say Zirinsky is energized and has no intentions of stepping back or even stepping up to a chairman’s role.
Speculation about who could replace her is mounting. One source told Business Insider to “Expect an outsider.” One name in the ring is Ryan Kadro, the former executive producer of “CBS This Morning,” who shifted to become head of news at Jeffrey Katzenberg’s still unwinding streaming video venture Quibi. Former NBC “Today” show chief Jim Bell, who also produced the Olympics and was executive in charge at “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” may be a candidate. Kadro and Bell were not available for comment.
Zirinsky’s number two is Kimberly Godwin, who is EVP at CBS News, would be the lead internal candidate, one of the four sources said. Godwin is the first Black VP at CBS News, according to Black Enterprise; she didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Another news industry executive said Zirinsky had made it known she was initially reluctant to take the top slot at CBS News, though she has a multi-year contract.
Over the past two years, Zirinsky has shaken up the news division, installing five new executive producers at seven shows, even helping to secure former President Barack Obama to discuss his new book.
Among her talent changes during the past two years were putting in Norah O’Donnell at the “CBS Evening News,” and moving the show to Washington, DC. She also put in new but familiar faces Tony Dokoupil and Anthony Mason at Gayle King’s side in the morning.
Zirinsky has had her fair share of drama to deal with, too. A “60 Minutes” interview with President Donald Trump went awry when Lesley Stahl warned the President that the questions would be tough. Trump stormed out and shared his own version of the interview, helping the show garner an eye-popping 17 million viewers.
The CBS News chief was also under pressure after Gayle King blasted the network for an “out of context” promotional video which featured a question about rape allegations against the late basketball star Kobe Bryant. The question led music artist Snoop Dogg to blast King using foul language about her. Snoop Dogg later apologized.
More recently, Zirinsky had to help parent company ViacomCBS cut costs as a result of the pandemic. Between 50-75 employees were axed back in May and according to The Hollywood Reporter, staff had asked why management didn’t cut their own pay as similar to moves at other big media companies.