CBS Chairman Les Moonves out due to sexual harassment allegations

Huge change means uncertainty at Black Rock

The end has come for one of media’s most known media executives due to sexual harassment complaints.

Les Moonves was officially forced out as Chairman, President, and CEO of CBS Corporation after 23 years with the company as a sexual harassment scandal surrounding him continues to grow. The move came as a second round of allegations were published in the New Yorker on Sunday after six more women came forward with allegations against Moonves. CBS was already negotiating a settlement with Moonves after the New Yorker first reported sexual assault allegations against him last July.

The allegations ranged from unwanted grouping and kissing to sexual assault with some dating back to the 1980s.

Moonves is the latest in a wave of people swept out by the #MeToo movement, as sexual harassment and other misconduct is now coming to light. The scandals have already brought down the likes of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Jeffrey Tambor, Charlie Rose, and others.

In the interim, Chief Operating Officer Joseph Ianniello is serving as acting President and CEO until a replacement is named. At the same time, CBS is also appointing six new board members – among them is former TimeWarner CEO Richard Parsons, the first African-American ever to serve in such capacity of a large company in the media business.

In addition, Moonves and CBS have pledged to donate $20 million to various #meToo organizations – a gesture considered hollow by many critics as Moonves could still receive an exit severance package of $120 million – that is, if his firing wasn’t “for cause”.

His departure also ends a feud with the company’s controlling shareholder, Shari Redstone, the daughter of longtime National Amusements chairman Summer Redstone. National Amusements is the principal owner of CBS and Viacom, who split from each other in late 2005 as into two publicly traded companies after a 1999 merger (Viacom was spun-off from CBS in 1971 as the FCC’s then-new fin-syn rules forced the networks out of the syndication business.)

As part of the move, Shari Redstone pledges to put off any merger between CBS and Viacom for the next two years – despite rivals pairing up to combat Silicon Valley-funded Big Tech companies such as Netflix and Amazon.

Moonves can be credited for turning around a network many gave up for dead, run into the ground by a previous regime led by former owner Laurence Tisch. When Moonves arrived in 1995, CBS was fresh off losing football and several big-market affiliates to Fox; plus the network fell into a distant third place. In the early years of Moonves tenure, he grew sitcoms such as Everybody Loves Raymond and Becker. He helped develop a fresh programming concept and re-defined the reality TV genre, by acquiring the formats for Survivor and Big Brother; both remain on the air to this day. Other hits in the Moonves era included Two And A Half Men and The Big Bang Theory. The success of another slow starter (CSI) would spawn new procedural dramas, including NCIS, Criminal Minds, Elementary, and Blue Bloods. By 2001, CBS went to the top of the network race among total viewers, if not among adults 18-49. And the NFL returned to CBS in 1998 and has a popular SEC football Saturday Afternoon package.

Shari Redstone obviously won her battle with Les Moonves after sexual allegations about him surfaced.

But problems persisted under Moonves as well. A bid to compete with ABC in the TGIF arena by stealing Family Matters and Step by Step away from them was a costly disaster. Howard Stern was a outspoken critic of Moonves; he often slammed him on his CBS/Infinity-syndicated radio show (CBS would later sell its radio division to Entercom.) CBS News (with its low-rated morning and evening shows) still couldn’t gain any traction. And while Moonves was touting CBS as “America’s Most Watched Network”, several CBS-owned stations such as WBBM-TV continue to lag way behind their competitors in local news as he basically treated the station group as an ugly stepsister. Of note is Detroit CBS O&O WWJ-TV, whose news operation closed in 2003 and hasn’t operated one since.

Under Moonves, CBS stumbled into the streaming era: the network’s All-Access hasn’t been the hit it wanted to be, plus original programming has been minuscule outside of Star Trek: Discovery, which hasn’t been as well-received as other previous Star Trek shows.

And while CSI has been a big global hit for CBS, the procedural genre it spawned has been criticized by many for its “paint-by-numbers” approach to storytelling.

Then there’s his persona, which turns off a lot of people. Speaking at a conference in San Francisco during the 2016 Presidential campaign, Moonves quipped “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS”, referring to the political advertising dollars Donald Trump would bring in for the network and its owned stations. He was known as a piranha in Hollywood circles; he exacted revenge on people and harbored grudges on those who crossed him. And Moonves was known to play hardball with affiliates over retransmission consent money and his demands led to CBS cutting ties with longtime affiliates in Jacksonville, Raleigh, and Indianapolis.

What remains now is how CBS is going to navigate this choppy period. With CBS refraining from re-merging with Viacom for two years, the network could become a takeover target. And while Moonves is gone, other controversial figures at the network remain, including 60 Minutes executive Producer Jeff Fager (also noted in the New Yorker story) and NCIS showrunner Brad Kern, who were also accused of sexual and racial harassment as noted by the Tribune’s Nina Metz. She also notes if you’re looking for change, don’t hold your breath given both are still employed by CBS.

I hate dragging out old tropes, but it looks like the same old corporate culture is cemented at The Church Of Tisch.

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