Sexual harassment allegations

Leslie Moonves made CBS a ratings star

Accused of sexual harassment and intimidation, CBS Corp chief executive and chairman admits to making mistakes in the past

CBS Corp's board will discuss the investigation into allegations of personal misconduct against the company's chief executive Leslie Moonves.
Leslie Moonves married Julie Chen (both left) in 2004, when she was co-host of CBS' Early Show.
Leslie Moonves married Julie Chen (both above) in 2004, when she was co-host of CBS' Early Show.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • It is hard to imagine a TV executive and a network more intertwined than Leslie Moonves and CBS.

He transformed the network over the past two decades, building it into a ratings powerhouse. CBS has been the No. 1 network in total viewers for 10 consecutive years. Along the way, he became one of the most powerful men in television.

But the CBS Corp chief executive and chairman, who was paid US$69.3 million (S$94.4 million) last year, has come under the spotlight as the CBS board of directors said last Friday it would investigate allegations of misconduct against him.

In an investigative piece by journalist Ronan Farrow published in The New Yorker last Friday, six women accused Moonves of sexual harassment and intimidation.

Moonves, 68, said in a statement to The New Yorker that he recognised that "there were times decades ago when I may have made some women uncomfortable by making advances. 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".

Farrow previously published a Pulitzer Prize-winning report about now-disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, which contributed to the producer's downfall.

Moonves started in the business by trying his hand at acting. He moved to Los Angeles in the 1970s and got a few TV roles.

"I was mediocre," he told CNN in 2006.

So he went into the business side and got a job with the producer of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.

By 1993, he was named president of Warner Brothers Television, where he helped develop massive hits such as ER and Friends.

Then he headed to CBS in 1995, when the network was third in the ratings among big broadcasters and a frequent punchline about its older viewership.

In 1998, Moonves brought football back to the network. Two years later, Survivor and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation premiered and became hits.

Under his watch, CBS also started churning out hugely popular sitcoms, from Everybody Loves Raymond to Two And A Half Men to The Big Bang Theory.

In a 2005 profile, The New York Times described one of his keys to success as "understanding what the audience wants - sometimes even before it knows it wants it".

"Americans do not like dark," Moonves told the paper about deciding about the TV line-up.

And the outlet described his television tastes: "In his shows, he likes the men alpha and handsome and the women smart and beautiful, and he wants little personal complexity: happy endings are imperative."

Soon, CBS ruled the ratings game with an iron fist. In 2006, New York Times reporter Bill Carter's book, Desperate Networks, declared that Moonves "engineered one of the most spectacular turnarounds in television history".

The book quoted a rival network executive as saying that his accomplishments over a decade were "as worthy of major applause as anything anybody has done in the past quarter century".

CBS Corp also controls Showtime and shares the CW Television Network with Warner Bros.

Shortly after he took over at Showtime about 2006, the premium cable channel launched an era of such critical hits as Weeds and Dexter. The CW launched at the same time and slowly built a devoted young audience, particularly with its superhero dramas.

Those who work for him have been rewarded for their loyalty, a 2014 Hollywood Reporter profile noted.

"Qualities that historically have rankled the CBS chief include dishonesty, disloyalty and a desire for the spotlight, with insiders noting that the men who have thrived under Moonves, a classic alpha male, tend to be egoless," the story said.

It added that "the women often have had bigger personalities".

In 2004, Moonves married Julie Chen, who was then co-host of the network's Early Show.

She is now the moderator on the daytime chatfest The Talk and hosts the reality competition series Big Brother.

Recently, he has been locked in a battle over the future of the company with Ms Shari Redstone, who owns the controlling shares of Viacom and CBS Corp via her entity, National Amusements, and wants to recombine the two companies that split up in 2006.

"The timing of this report comes in the midst of the company's very public legal dispute," CBS said in a statement to the Hollywood Reporter last Friday.

"While that litigation process continues, the CBS management team has the full support of the independent board members."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 30, 2018, with the headline 'Leslie Moonves made CBS a ratings star'. Subscribe