From an early age, Noriko Kelley set her sights on two things: USC and entertainment. Her grandparents, who often babysat Kelley and her two siblings, lived close by, and a well-worn route to their house wound through the University Park campus and by the Shrine Auditorium. At Kelley’s request, they often stopped outside the landmark building, which has been home to the Oscars, Emmys, and Grammys, before crossing the street and walking past Tommy Trojan.
Little did she know when she walked by the longtime home of the big award shows that she would one day grow up to be the person who decided when those shows aired. As executive vice president of program planning and scheduling at CBS, Kelley works hand-in-hand with executives and talent on all primetime programming — including the Emmys and Grammys — when they cycle to CBS. Kelley has also been instrumental in many of the network’s successful scheduling decisions; according to Deadline, CBS wrapped up the “2018-19 TV season as the country’s most-watched broadcast network in primetime, making it 11 consecutive seasons on top.”
Kelley traces her career motivations back to her parents and grandparents, who made sure the American dream was always within her reach.
“The one thing that I got to see with my parents — who were both educators — is that they absolutely loved their jobs,” she said. “I wanted that same sort of passion, drive, and longevity in my career.”
When it was time for college, “USC stood out for me,” she said. Kelley began her journey as an East Asian languages and cultures major at USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. “Even though I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life, I knew that I would figure it out once I was here.”
During her senior year, Kelley interned at the Japanese newspaper The Mainichi and was hired on full time after graduating in 1998. She started covering film premieres and her eyes quickly opened to the possibilities within the world of entertainment. With her focus now shifted, Kelley returned to USC in 1999 to begin the master’s in communication management program.
“I found USC Annenberg and thought, this is the perfect blend of everything that I’m looking for: a little bit of business, a little bit of cinema — I could even take classes in law,” said Kelley, who now sits on the USC Annenberg Alumni Advisory Board. “I was learning about the entertainment business, and also individuals who made up the business, whether they’re agents, managers, presidents of divisions, or department heads.”
Through the Annenberg Career Fair, Kelley secured a summer internship as a television research analyst with CBS. The internship turned into a six-month gig, which rolled into a full-time job at CBS after her graduation in 2001. In 2002, Kelley was hired as an assistant to Kelly Kahl ’91, then executive vice president of scheduling.
Over the last nearly 20 years, Kelley has been promoted at CBS six times, with one of her many accomplishments being a decision to relocate the hugely successful The Big Bang Theory to Thursday night. Kelley’s most recent promotion came in 2017, and with this one she broke an important glass ceiling, becoming the first woman to head scheduling at a major broadcast network.
“To me, there’s no better way of saying that you stand for inclusion than promoting someone to be the first,” Kelley said.
As for attaining the childhood dream of loving what she does, Kelley can honestly say she did.
“Growing up, I wanted to be able to wake up every day and get really excited about where I work — and I do,” she said. “I love figuring out how to deliver a schedule that’s going to create high ratings and revenue and I love knowing that anyone in the world can be affected by CBS’s schedule. I live and breathe TV.”
By Mira Zimet