CMT Slashes Key Writing Staff, Adds Billy Ray Cyrus Impersonating Elvis

Things just keep getting more comical for CMT and its parent company Viacom, unless you’re one of the many who’ve been shown the door. As first reported in early March, CMT and Viacom are in the midst of a massive restructuring that has seen the company shed 264 employees just in their New York office alone, including many who worked for the CMT affiliate.

The moves are being made in an effort to combine various Viacom properties from three domestic network groups into two network organizations. CMT is being shuffled into the “Kids & Family” group, but apparently that won’t affect the amount of filth CMT serves up with reality shows such as Party Down South and their series of “Redneck” shows. These appear to be just about the only properties under the CMT umbrella being spared the axe.

Last week the Nashville offices of CMT were also hit hard with layoffs. An undisclosed amount of employees received pink slips, including some of the company’s most noted journalists and content contributors. Craig Shelburne, a 13-year CMT veteran, senior editor of CMT.com, editor of CMT Edge and producer for Live @ CMT and Concrete Country was shown the door, as was writer and producer Chris Parton who had been with the company since 2007. The dismissals continue CMT’s shift from a country music media apparatus to a low brow entertainment mecca for country-oriented corporate consumers.

No word on if the layoffs will mean the rolling up of CMT’s more independently-oriented CMT Edge, but the loss of Shelburne and Parton comes at a time when voices in country journalism at major outlets continue to contract.

billy-ray-cyrus-elvisDuring the first round of layoffs, a CMT spokesperson told The Wrap, “We are not shifting CMT’s programming direction. This will be clear next month when we unveil an ambitious and diverse programming slate that includes new original series and returning favorites.”

Well today saw the unveiling of some of those new shows, and at least one leaves viewers in stitches even before the first jokes fall flat. Starring none other than the country music punch line himself, Billy Ray Cyrus, CMT’s latest epiphany for solving their ratings and revenue tailspin is to cast Billy Ray as an Elvis impersonator named Vernon Brown, who appropriately, was a previous country music one hit wonder who then becomes the minister of a church outside of Nashville. The series is called Still The King.

No word on if a mostly naked Miley Cyrus or Billy Ray’s new bestie Shooter Jennings, or Billy’s famous mullet will make any cameos. If you need any further assurance about the show, rest easy knowing Billy Ray came up with the concept himself.

“Vernon has a great heart and really means to do good, but sometimes he just can’t help himself,” Cyrus told the AP. “Once you’ve pretended to be the King, where do you go from there?”

That’s a very good question Billy Ray.

Other shows slated to underwhelm the mind-numbed CMT viewer is a coming-of-age documentary involving a group of friends in small-town Florida, a series starring “YouTube prankster” Ed Bassmaster, and a late-night talk show with E! Entertainment extra Josh Wolf. Also as part of the announcement, a new show following Kellie Pickler and her husband around was unveiled.

Net earnings dropped 9% for Viacom in the last quarter, while revenue was down 6%. For some Viacom properties like TV Land, the news was even worse with losses reported around 24%. Many top executives across Viacom properties have been let go as part of the restructuring, yet the president and CEO of Viacom Philippe Dauman made a total of $44.3 million last year in salary and incentives.