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Brian Watson to end two-decade career at Paramount

His resignation will take effect in early May, according to a memo obtained by The Desk.

His resignation will take effect in early May, according to a memo obtained by The Desk.

Brian Watson.
Brian Watson. (Photo via LinkedIn)

Brian Watson is stepping away from his role as general manager of Paramount’s television stations in Detroit, ending a career with the company that spans more than two decades.

Watson’s last day as general manager of WWJ-TV (Channel 62, CBS) and independent sister-station WKBD (Channel 50) will happen on May 10, according to a memo circulated to employees this week and obtained by The Desk on Tuesday.

His resignation comes after a month of internal discussions with CBS News & Stations President Jennifer Mitchell, the memo said. Mitchell is expected to communicate with WWJ-TV and WKBD employees directly in the coming days as Watson transitions out of his role, the memo said.

It was not clear if Watson’s decision was entirely his own, or if he was coerced by Mitchell or someone else at Paramount to step away from his duties. An email sent to Mitchell seeking additional information and comment has not been returned as of Tuesday afternoon.

Watson has spent his entire broadcast career at Paramount dating back to its time as Viacom Networks. He first served as an account executive at Atlanta-based WUPA (Channel 69) in 1999, rising to the level of national sales manager just two years later, a position he held for more than a decade.

In June 2012, he moved to Detroit to serve as the vice president and director of sales at WWJ-TV and WKBD. He was promoted four years later to the role of vice president and general manager of the station, and was elevated to the role of president two years ago.

During his time in Detroit, Watson oversaw the development and launch of a full-scale news operation at WWJ-TV, to include distributing the channel’s morning, mid-day and prime-time newscasts on Paramount-owned streaming platforms like Pluto TV. In an interview with trade publication Variety, then-CBS News & Stations President Wendy McMahon described the news operation as one that was focused first on streaming distribution, which could then “flow like water across our linear broadcast, digital and social media platforms.”

“When Brian and his team presented their vision for CBS News Detroit earlier this year, I thought to myself, this never happens — until now,” McMahon said in the interview.

Watson also oversaw WKBD’s transition into a full-time independent outlet after Paramount announced it would drop the CW Network affiliation from eight of its owned-and-operation stations, including its outlet in Detroit. The CW affiliation later moved to WADL (Channel 38) for two months, before settling on E. W. Scripps-owned WMYD (Channel 20).

WKBD took advantage of its reclaimed hours to incorporate more local news programming into the station, with WWJ-TV launching a 7 a.m. weekday newscast on the independent outlet. Watson also secured new syndication deals that brought more general entertainment and reality-based programming to WKBD in key prime-time hours, similar to other Paramount-owned stations that converted to independent outlets following the termination of the CW Network affiliation agreement.

In his farewell memo, Watson said he thought about his departure for some time before deciding to step away in early May.

“It has been an incredible journey, marked by numerous achievements and the forging of many meaningful friendships,” he wrote.

The full memo appears below:

Team,

I am writing to let you know that, after a close to 25-year career with Paramount/CBS, I will be stepping away from my role as President and General Manager of CBS Detroit and Detroit 50. My last day will be May 10.

I know this may come as a surprise to many of you, but please understand that I have thought long and hard about this decision and how to make this transition as smooth as possible. For the past month, Jennifer Mitchell and I have been discussing how to do so, and she will share details with you in the coming days.

It has been an incredible journey, marked by numerous achievements and the forging of many meaningful friendships. When I joined Paramount in 1999 as an Account Executive at WUPA in Atlanta, I never imagined the journey that decision would take me. Looking back now, I feel blessed to have been part of something so special. Reflecting on my career with CBS, I set goals early on to become a Director of Sales and, ultimately, a General Manager. I am proud of accomplishing both goals, and now I look forward to embarking on a new chapter in my life.

No doubt, my career highlight is the role I played in helping launch CBS News Detroit. Not many will have the opportunity to start a full-fledged news operation from the ground up in their careers. I am forever grateful to Wendy McMahon for her trust and support in this endeavor. She challenged our team to create the newsroom of the future and supported us along the way. It is incredible to think we launched just thirteen months after receiving the go-ahead approval.

Considering that it was built during the pandemic and with the accompanying supply chain issues, it is an even more remarkable example of a true team accomplishment.

Leaving this role is bittersweet, as I will miss the camaraderie, the sense of purpose, and the meaningful work we have done together. However, I am confident in all your abilities and that you will continue to thrive and succeed. I am proud of the CBS Detroit and Detroit 50 team, and the culture we all had a hand in fostering. I could not imagine a better group of professionals to work alongside, and you will always have my utmost respect and admiration.

Thank you for the opportunity to lead while allowing me to bring my true self to work every day. I encourage you to be proud of what you have achieved and how much you have grown and continue to develop. Please continue to push yourselves out of your comfort zones and take risks without fear of failure or consequence.

Ignore what is behind you and focus on what is in front of you, while not losing sight of the people sharing the journey alongside you.

– Brian

Disclosure: The author of this story worked with Jennifer Mitchell at KGO-TV in San Francisco from May 2011 to January 2012.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 10 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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