Column: Paramount’s new president was fired last year as CEO of NBCUniversal after allegations of sexual harassment

Column: Paramount’s new president was fired last year as CEO of NBCUniversal after allegations of sexual harassment

An $8 billion merger between two major Hollywood entities has made headlines, with Skydance Media, the Hollywood production company behind recent “Mission: Impossible” movies, taking over Paramount Global, which includes the movie studio Paramount Pictures as well as TV networks such as CBS, Showtime and Comedy Central.

The CEO of Skydance is David Ellison, who is the son of billionaire Oracle founder Larry Ellison. Ellison’s name has appeared in many headlines announcing the deal. The other name that’s also appeared? Jeff Shell, who will be president of the new company when the deal closes.

However, a key piece of information about Shell has been conspicuously absent in reporting so far across numerous outlets: Shell was the CEO of NBCUniversal until last year, when he was fired after allegations of sexual harassment by a female employee were corroborated.

Here is what Comcast, the parent company of NBCUniversal, reported in a SEC filing on April 23, 2023:

Following a complaint that Jeffrey Shell, CEO of NBCUniversal, engaged in inappropriate conduct with a female employee, including allegations of sexual harassment, Comcast Corporation (the “Company”) retained outside counsel to investigate the allegations. During the investigation, evidence was uncovered that corroborated the allegations. As a consequence, on April 23, 2023, the Company terminated Mr. Shell’s employment With Cause under his employment agreement, effective immediately.

This happened only 16 months ago, though it doesn’t appear to have been addressed in a call with Wall Street analysts Monday morning.

Why is this high-profile work history not included in reporting around the deal? I can’t answer that.

Why did Ellison think this work history didn’t disqualify Shell from such a prominent and surely lucrative position with the new company? I can’t answer that either. But Skydance has done this before.

The company hired John Lasseter in 2019, a year after he left his job as head of animation at Disney and Pixar owing to allegations that he had a reputation for “grabbing, kissing, making comments about physical attributes,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. A story in Variety reported that Lasseter’s contract with Skydance “contains provisions that make the former Pixar Animation chief financially responsible for any legal claims involving sexual harassment” and that “in order to get the job at Skydance, Lasseter met with an outside legal team to address allegations that he inappropriately touched or kissed former Pixar staffers. He was expected to give an exhaustive account of any behavior that was deemed unacceptable.”

It is unclear if Shell underwent the same scrutiny.

For longtime CBS employees, this will be the second major executive they will be working under who has had allegations against them. After 20 years with the company, “CBS chief executive Les Moonves is exiting the company, effective immediately, amid a flurry of sexual misconduct allegations,” CNN reported in 2018.

Nina Metz is a Tribune critic.