CBS CEO Les Moonves “Contemplating” Stepping Aside Temporarily While Misconduct Probes Continue

By Dominic Patten, Dawn C. Chmielewski, Dade Hayes

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EXCLUSIVE: With a long-scheduled CBS board meeting having just started, Leslie Moonves is “contemplating” stepping aside from his CEO perch for a while as investigations into allegations of misconduct by him and the culture at the network continue.

“It would be the right thing to do and a stabilizing move,” an insider also told Deadline this morning of the once nearly unthinkable possibility that Moonves could not be leading CBS. The option is one of several being floated for the board, the source says. In many circumstances, even for a figure as synonymous with his company as Moonves, such a temporary move as this by a corporate executive is standard procedure.

Though already on the calendar in anticipation of the August 2 quarterly earnings report and next week’s annual shareholder meeting, the meat of the approximately 9:30 AM PT sit-down will now obviously be addressing the fallout of the New Yorker article published online on July 27. Half a dozen women told Ronan Farrow about alleged inappropriate and retaliatory behavior by Moonves over the decades.

As the company continues its battle in court with de facto controlling shareholder and vice chair Shari Redstone over who holds the corporate wheel and a potential Viacom merger, the CBS board of directors is expected to issue a statement after today’s videoconference meeting.

Directors spoke over the weekend, trying to figure out the contours of an independent investigation that would demonstrate, internally and externally, that it is taking the charges of misconduct seriously, a source said. Questions have already been raised about whether Moonves could remain in his capacity as Chairman as the independent probe proceeds.

Rich Greenfield, an analyst with BTIG, issued a report this morning that nodded to Game of Thrones in its title, “Will August 10th Be CBS’ Red Wedding Episode?” In it, he outlines the timetable, noting that the company’s annual shareholder meeting has suddenly taken on even more importance given the combination of the Moonves crisis and the legal battle with National Amusements. “All eyes should be on August 10,” he writes.”
Todd Juenger of Sanford Bernstein, meanwhile, said he is maintaining his “outperform” rating on CBS shares, but views the Moonves issues as yet more baggage for the company.

The 68-year-old executive has served as chairman of CBS since 2003 and has been widely credited with the network’s ratings and stock success. The company has no written succession plan for Moonves – a source of friction with Redstone, as the Delaware based lawsuit between the parties has noted repeatedly.

The six women cited in the New Yorker piece have accused Moonves of unwanted kissing and touching conduct that stretches back decades. The allegations were reported Friday in an article that also raised questions about broader culture problems at the media company.

“I recognize that there were times decades ago when I may have made some women uncomfortable by making advances,” Moonves was quoted in the New Yorker piece. “Those were mistakes, and I regret them immensely.  But I always understood and respected—and abided by the principle—that ‘no’ means ‘no,’ and I have never misused my position to harm or hinder anyone’s career.”

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