Deborah Barak, Longtime CBS Business Executive, Dies at 65

Deborah Barak, a prominent and longtime CBS business executive who oversaw and helped shape deals on awards shows like the Grammys, TV series Survivor and the CBS All Access platform, has died. She was 65.

Barak passed away on Saturday at her home in Studio City while surrounded by family and friends, a rep for CBS told The Hollywood Reporter. The former executive, whose work spanned CBS Entertainment, CBS Television Studios and CBS News, had cancer. In an email to staff Saturday night, Amy Reisenbach, president, CBS Entertainment, shared the news of Barak’s death, expressing that the former head of CBS’ business affairs was not only “pure class, intelligence, and goodness,” but “the reason I love CBS so much.”

“I know that not everyone on this email knew her well or maybe at all, but those who did, know she was truly an amazing human being. She was an incredible and devoted mother and grandmother. And she was a dear friend to so many,” Reisenbach said in the email. “Her brilliance as a business affairs executive was unmatched. Debby drove a hard bargain but was always fair and compassionate. She was also a mentor to dozens at CBS, including me.”

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In a statement, CBS Studios president David Stapf described Barak as a mentor, partner, dear friend and person — “equal parts intimidating, smart as hell and incredibly empathetic”

“She was the person everyone turned to for counsel and guidance, both professionally and personally. You always left her office feeling a little bit smarter and emotionally stronger,” he added. “There was no one who was more universally loved, admired, and respected at CBS and across our business.”

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Nina Tasler, former chairman, CBS Entertainment, and current partner and co-founder of PATMA Productions added that Barak was someone “respected and admired across the entire media spectrum” for being “wise, tough and fair-minded to all” and “treating everyone with grace and dignity.”

“Her business savviness and sophisticated negotiating skills were matched by her humanity and decency. Working together for over 20 years was one of the most rewarding experiences of my lifetime.   Her sophisticated intellect along with a deep appreciation for artists distinguished Debby as world-class;  few possessed her myriad unique talents,” she continued. “Unassuming and press-shy, she was loved by her staff and creative executives throughout the company and the industry at large.”

Barak joined CBS in 1985 as broadcast counsel for the Network’s West Coast law department. During her nearly four decades at the company — which concluded in early 2020 following five years as president, business operations, CBS Entertainment, CBS Television Studios and CBS News — she held numerous positions that built key company infrastructure around talent and producer deals as well as program licensing agreements. She also developed new business models that reshaped CBS’s late night, reality programming and more.

Barak, who represented CBS on the board that oversaw The CW, handled many of the network’s high-profile TV license renewals, including The Late Show With David LettermanThe Big Bang Theory and Two And A Half Men, as well as longer term awards franchise renewals, such as The Grammys, the Country Music Awards and the Kennedy Center Honors.

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She was notably responsible for drafting the original Survivor cast contract, which not only served the now decades-long show, but also became a template for reality talent agreements. In late night, she helped the studio make its pivot from leased to fully-owned programming, negotiating both talent and production agreements for Stephen Colbert and James Corden, the first late night series produced by CBS Television Studios. She was also responsible for introducing program ownership to CBS’ primetime.

As TV made its way into the streaming era, she would help shepherd the expansion into CBS All Access, along with developing the business template for CBS’ summer original scripted series model, which produced an in-season SVOD window and lower network license fees. She was additionally responsible for laying the foundation CBS All Access’ original series license structure, which impacted shows like Star Trek: Discovery.

One of her last moves as a CBS executive before her 2020 departure was negotiating CBS’ purchase of an interest in Kapital Entertainment, along with a distribution and co-production deal with Imagine Entertainment. 

Prior to becoming president of business operations, Barak was CBS’ evp, business operations, CBS Network Television Entertainment Group for five years, starting in 2010. Before that she also held the titles of evp, business affairs, CBS Network Television Entertainment Group, svp, business affairs, CBS Entertainment; and svp, business planning and special projects. Ahead of her time at the studio, was an associate at O’Melveny & Myers. Barak graduated from UCLA and received a law degree from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

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She is survived by her mother, Beverly, as well as sister Sherri Cunningham and her husband Paul; her son Jonathan and his partner Hanna; her two daughters Sarah Buchsbaum and her husband Aaron, as well as Hannah Milgrom and husband Paul Brumfield; and four beloved grandchildren.

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