EXCLUSIVE: Deborah Barak, CBS’ President of Business Operations, will be leaving at the end of the year after three and a half decades at the company. During her tenure, the unassuming and press-shy Barak has established herself as one of the most prominent, highly respected and influential business affairs executives in television, negotiating mega pacts, creating deal templates and introducing business models.
The departure had been in the works for quite some time and is not connected to the ongoing ViacomCBS integration activities or the pending leadership change at CBS, according to sources. Barak signaled her plans at the time of her last contract renewal about a year and a half ago when the veteran executive dialed back to being in the office three days a week and indicated that the new contract would likely be her last term. She spent the last 18 months mentoring her team and delegating responsibilities to prepare them for her likely departure.
Barak confirmed to CBS Chairman and CEO Joe Ianniello in November that she would be leaving when her deal expires at the end of 2020, sources said. The surprise exit of Barak’s top lieutenant, Dan Kupetz who left earlier this month for Disney’s 20th Century Fox TV, came after she had set her exit timetable. She continues to work with the rest of the team, including Allison Brightman, who was promoted to head of business affairs of CBS TV Studios, replacing Kupetz.
Barak’s departure is said to be a personal decision stemming from her desire to embark on a new chapter in her career while she has the energy and drive to do it. As to what that chapter might be, Barak is said to be keen on working in non-profit, an area she has been very involved in. She is currently on the board of Jewish Family Services, where she previously was Chair, and Adat Ari El school, and active with Unistream and the Israel Policy Forum, among others. Barak also may pursue other opportunities, including serving on boards, while ruling out another full-time job at a traditional media company, I hear.
Barak is currently working on succession in addition to her regular duties as CBS’ top business executive. She manages the business issues and strategies for CBS Entertainment, CBS TV Studios and CBS News and runs the Business Affairs departments for each division, overseeing negotiations for talent and producer deals, program licensing agreements and developing new business models. Additionally, Barak represents CBS on the board that oversees The CW and supervises the deal making for streamer CBS All Access.
“Debby is someone who intentionally keeps a low profile, but has a very big presence within our halls and will leave a legacy of accomplishments that will benefit CBS for years to come,” said Ianniello. “In her role, she has negotiated our biggest talent deals and far-reaching licensing agreements, as well as created new business models to expand our programming portfolio. Debby’s deal-making and business acumen have supported CBS in its run as the #1 network and the rise of CBS Television Studios to a powerhouse production company with more than 75 series. Her business guidance and license fee templates have also helped CBS All Access grow in the original content space.”
During her tenure at CBS, Barak helped set a business framework for the network to establish an in-house production arm and has overseen dealmaking for the studio, from the first original series for then-CBS Productions, including docuseries Rescue 911 and drama Touched By an Angel, to the expansive, 75-series current slate of CBS TV Studios, a major supplier to broadcast, cable and streaming.
In addition to her key role in introducing program ownership to CBS’ primetime, Barak helped establish a business blueprint and led dealmaking for the switch of CBS’ late-night real estate from leased to fully-owned. She negotiated the talent and production agreements for Late Show with Stephen Colbert and Late Late Show with James Corden, the first CBS’ late-night shows to be produced by CBS Television Studios.
Barak also helped create the business template for CBS’ model for summer original scripted series via lower network license fees and an in-season SVOD window. It has been used for such series as Under The Dome, Extant, Zoo and the BrainDead. In addition, she has established the license fee structures for CBS All Access’ original series, such as Star Trek: Discovery.
During her decades at CBS, Barak has led the network’s and studio’s highest-profile negotiations. More recently, she has negotiated CBS’ purchase of an interest in Kapital Entertainment, and a long-term distribution and co-production deal with Imagine Entertainment.
Barak has handled license renewals for the network’s series, including the high-profile renegotiations for The Big Bang Theory, Two And A Half Men and The Late Show With David Letterman, as well as long-term renewals for key franchise specials, including The Grammy Awards, The Kennedy Center Honors and the Academy Of Country Music Awards. In 2000, she drafted the original Survivor cast contract, which became a template for reality talent agreements.
Before being named President of Business Operations in 2015, Barak served as EVP, Business Operations, CBS Network Television Entertainment Group since 2010. Prior to that, she was EVP, Business Affairs, CBS Network Television Entertainment Group since 2004; SVP, Business Affairs, CBS Entertainment from February 2002 through October 2004; and SVP, Business Planning and Special Projects, playing a key role in the negotiation of new media deals and co-production agreements. Barak joined CBS in 1985 as Broadcast Counsel in the Network’s West Coast law department.
“We’ve known for a while that Debby was in the process of winding down her incredible career at CBS,” Ianniello said. “When that day comes, she will be missed and all of us will wish her much success in every future endeavor. At the same time, the Company is fortunate to have her here until the end of the year to help us chart future leadership and strategies for the business operations at the Network and Studio.”