CBS Acting CEO & Brass Hit Dull Button In Digital Town Hall; Questioned About Les Moonves, Viacom Merger Talk & More

By Dade Hayes, Dawn C. Chmielewski, Dominic Patten

Mark Lennihan/AP/Shutterstock

In a two-day forum for employees that concluded this afternoon, CBS acting CEO Joe Ianniello and two other top executives answered a range of questions via a liveblog hosted on an internal network. Going for straight communication with their staff, the brass were very careful to avoid setting off any fireworks about former CEO Les Moonves, the legal situation of his now non-severance and possible new merger talks with Viacom.

Multiple CBS employees reached by Deadline saluted the initiative, but described the answers as nothing new for anyone who has been following the company’s recent press releases or official communications with Wall Street. In what may bee seen as a success in some corner office circles in the scandal rocked company, no major news was broken in the sessions, in other words, in contrast with some other town halls of late.

The virtual town hall is a common format in Silicon Valley, where giant global companies like Google and Facebook hold weekly sessions to give employees an opportunity to air concerns directly with executives. It isn’t the norm at traditional media companies, however, including at CBS during the tenure of former CEO Moonves, who was the consummate corporate showman.

Ianniello is attempting to strike a different tone from his predecessor through the sessions and re-establish a sense of stability and normalcy.

That shift comes CBS has been buffeted by damaging revelations about its culture in recent years, notably the alleged sexual misconduct by Moonves. As a permanent CEO is scouted, CBS is also now operating with a revamped management team and board of directors amidst steady rumors of reunion discussions with Viacom on the menu in the coming months

Along with

, Chief People Officer Laurie Rosenfield and Chief Communications Officer Dana McClintock also responded to questions in the liveblog. Submitted questions could be viewed on the blog, though not all questions were answered, sources told Deadline.

“The company has never done anything like that, so that’s a positive,” said one executive, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak. “I’m not sure it’s the most effective thing I’ve ever seen, but it’s a nice gesture.”

Added another exec, “People are participating, but no one is the least bit surprised by any of the answers.”

Employees did venture into sensitive territory. One asked what CBS plans to do with the $120 million the company will no longer pay Moonves in severance after an internal investigation found him guilty of “willful and material malfeasance.” Ianniello noted that legal due process would need to take its course if Moonves is planning to challenge the board decision that he did not deserve the severance payment. As to where the $120 million would go, Ianniello said it would be reinvested in the company, according to those who viewed his response.

One executive told Deadline that a good number of the employee questions pertained to fairly quotidian workplace matters like benefits and work hours. “It’s not anonymous, so people aren’t going to ask incendiary questions,” noted another CBS executive.

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