Nearly six months after Les Moonves was ousted from CBS after numerous sexual assault and misconduct allegations, the search for his permanent successor is proceeding apace.

Most insiders expect a new CEO to be in place by April, we hear.

Right now, the leading candidates appear to be acting CEO Joe Ianniello, a company veteran who has kept the operation productive and the stock buoyant even amid one of the most tumultuous stretches in its 90-year history, and Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner. As has been bandied about for several weeks, another finalist in the running is former Disney executive and Bob Iger heir apparent Tom Staggs.

Whoever takes the reins will likely be charged with answering the familiar question as to the prospects of CBS as a stand-alone company compared with re-teaming with Viacom, with which it has a common controlling shareholder, National Amusements.

Merger talks with Viacom — which twice failed to bear fruit in recent years — are thought to be a distinct possibility in the coming months, and would return the broadcast- and cable-centric companies to the same corporate fold where they were from 2000 to 2006.

Per a settlement reached last fall in dueling lawsuits between CBS and controlling shareholder National Amusements, the latter cannot initiate merger talks until late 2020 at the earliest. Representatives of the individual companies could initiate the discussions of their own volition, however. Before hammering out what a merged entity would look like (and smooth any organizational wrinkles), those close to the process say picking a permanent leader is crucial.

CBS and National Amusements both had no comment when contacted by Deadline.

“The Viacom stuff is on every one’s horizon, but the CEO search is something that people feel they need to get on track sooner rather than later,” said a source close to the action.

To that end, the expectation is that the board will narrow it choice down to three candidates in the next few weeks, with an appointment likely by late April. That would allow the new boss or the permanently anointed Ianniello time to be out front for the upfronts mid-May and the company’s annual shareholder meeting, which this year is scheduled for late-May.
As 2019 began, with megadeals like Disney-Fox and AT&T-Time Warner poised to redraw the industry map, the drumbeat on Wall Street was louder about CBS and Viacom getting back together than about who would take the Moonves mantle full time. Search firm Korn Ferry was hired late last year to handle the CEO process, at around the same time the CBS board of directors and a good portion of its executive ranks experienced significant turnover as the company took steps to move past the Moonves era.