NPR Fills CEO Post Vacated by Schiller with Gary Knell of Sesame Workshop

Former Sesame Workshop chief will take over the publicly-funded news network starting on Dec. 1

NPR has named former Sesame Workshop chief Gary Knell its new president and CEO, replacing  the controversial Vivian Schiller, the public broadcaster announced Sunday.

Schiller was pushed out in March, when an underling was caught in a video sting criticizing the Tea Party and Republicans.

Knell is a public broadcasting veteran, having served as CEO of "Sesame Stree" producer Sesame Workshop since 2000. He is credited for expanding the global reach of the "Sesame Street" childrens brand, notably establishing co-production ventures in South Africa, India, Northern Ireland and Egypt.

Also read: NPR CEO Vivian Schiller Ousted in Wake of Video Sting Scandal

“Gary is an extraordinary leader with extensive experience in public media, programming and education,” NPR board of directors chairman Dave Edwards said.  “As CEO of Sesame Workshop for more than a decade, he has led a large, complex organization through a tumultuous media environment, helping it grow by providing innovative, engaging content in new and creative ways.”

Knell will start his new job Dec. 1.

“I’m thrilled to join NPR,” Knell added. “Over the past 40 years, it’s grown from an inspired idea to one of the world’s most respected and leading providers of news, music and cultural programming — both on the air and across ever-expanding digital platforms. This is media with a deeply held mission, compelling history and boundless future."

For her part, Schiller (left) was caught up in scandal when NPR senior VP of fundraising Ron Schiller (no relation) got caught up in sting set up by conservative trouble maker James O'Keefe. Ron Schiller was seen on video criticizing the GOP and Tea Party to an individual who he thought represented a Muslim group.

Schiller was also criticized a year ago for how she handled the firing of former commentator Juan Williams — an execution she later apologized for. Williams was abruptly canned for comments he made on the air about Muslims to Fox News' Bill O'Reilly. His firing was successfully spun by conservative media as NPR muzzling a conservative voice.

Also read: NPR CEO Apologizes for Poor Handling of Juan Williams Firing

Knell takes the reins as the GOP-led House of Representatives is once again trying to cut NPR's federal funding.

Also read: Here They Go Again: House GOP Tries to Strip NPR of Federal Funding

Just last week, the House Appropriations Committee unveiled its latest budget proposal and among other things, it includes a provision to prohibit funds from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) from tricking down to NPR. 

Of course, the Democratic-led Senate will have something to say about this.

More to come. Here's the full NPR press release:

NPR NAMES GARY E. KNELL PRESIDENT AND CEO

Current President and CEO of Sesame Workshop to Lead Award-Winning Media Organization, Beginning December 1

October 2, 2011; Washington, D.C. – Gary E. Knell, the longtime President and CEO of Sesame Workshop, will become President and CEO of NPR, Board of Directors Chairman Dave Edwards announced today.

“Gary is an extraordinary leader with extensive experience in public media, programming and education,” Edwards said.  “As CEO of Sesame Workshop for more than a decade, he has led a large, complex organization through a tumultuous media environment, helping it grow by providing innovative, engaging content in new and creative ways.”

“He has the skills, experience, talent and vision to lead NPR into an even more dynamic future, while maintaining its commitment to serve Member stations and the public,” Edwards added. “That’s why, after an in-depth and collaborative search, the Board unanimously chose Gary.”

“I’m thrilled to join NPR,” Knell said. “Over the past 40 years, it’s grown from an inspired idea to one of the world’s most respected and leading providers of news, music and cultural programming – both on the air and across ever-expanding digital platforms. This is media with a deeply held mission, compelling history and boundless future. Simply put: it’s journalism at its best.  What an opportunity to work with the incredibly talented staff here, and to partner with stations, as we continue to innovate, expand civil dialogue and set the standard for media.”

Knell, whose career in public broadcasting spans nearly three decades, will join NPR on December 1. He became CEO of Sesame Workshop – a collaborative, multimedia organization that maximizes the educational power of media to help children and families reach their highest potential – in 2000. He first joined Sesame in 1989, and became COO in 1998, and CEO in 2000. During his tenure, the organization has expanded its revenue base, audience and global recognition. Knell also has been instrumental in focusing the organization on Sesame Street’s worldwide mission, including the creation of groundbreaking co-productions in South Africa, India, Northern Ireland and Egypt.

Knell was also managing director of Manager Media International, a print and multimedia publishing company based in Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Singapore. He served as senior vice president and general counsel at WNET/Channel 13 in New York, was counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary and Governmental Affairs Committees and worked in the California State Legislature and Governor's Office.

Knell is presently a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO, serves as a director of the executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles, is on the board of governors of the National Geographic Education Foundation, and is a board member of AARP Services, Inc., the Jacob Burns Film Center and Save the Children.

He is a longtime public radio listener and supporter, and a member of three NPR stations: WNYC New York, KPLU Seattle, and WFUV New York, where he also serves on the advisory board.

Knell joins NPR at a time of tremendous growth and potential for the organization, and for all of public radio. NPR’s ambitious expansion of its foreign and investigative coverage resulted in tireless reporting on the Arab Spring, and dozens of enterprising investigations into mine safety, national security, assault on college campuses, and health care for the military. As investments in local media continue to shrink or disappear altogether, NPR is leading multiple station collaborations to build the reporting capacity of public radio across all platforms at both the national and local level.

NPR was assisted by the executive search consulting firm Spencer Stuart on this appointment.

NPR is an award-winning, multimedia news organization that reaches more than 27 million people every week. In collaboration with more than 900 independent public radio stations nationwide, NPR strives to provide the public with a deeper understanding and appreciation of events, ideas and cultures. To find local stations and broadcast times for NPR programs, visit www.npr.org/stations