Like a certain indestructible watch, CBS Corp. president and CEO Leslie Moonves takes a licking and keeps right on ticking. He gets beaten up in the press (see: the recent controversy over CBS’ reality show “Kid Nation” or the Don Imus/CBS Radio furor) and is forced to go to war with disgruntled former employees like Howard Stern and, most recently, Dan Rather. But still Moonves stands, presiding over a broadcast network that consistently pulls in the numbers with steady primetime fare like the “CSI” franchise and “Two and a Half Men.”
The man who saw the American potential in “Survivor” is himself a survivor, as well as an innovator on the international front. It’s why Moonves has been named this year’s recipient of the prestigious MIPCOM Personality of the Year honor.
It was Moonves who led the push to snap up the domestic rights for “Survivor,” the five-time Emmy-winning “The Amazing Race” and a third global phenomenon, “Big Brother” — turning them all into long-running, lucrative franchises for CBS and the larger Viacom world in which it resides. He has also, of course, overseen the development and rise of the “CSI” triumvirate and the consistent implementation of fellow procedurals like “Without a Trace” and “Cold Case” in tandem with a fellow named Jerry Bruckheimer.
Moonves foresaw the reality boom via “Survivor” and “Big Brother” and remains the only holdout among the five broadcast networks who refuses to deep-six conventional comedy. And why not? In “Two and a Half Men” and the 2007 midseason acquisition “Rules of Engagement,” the man in charge has the two highest-rated comedies on TV — and both are multicamera traditionalists boasting laugh tracks.
The conventional wisdom is that Moonves, 58, has something of a sixth sense when it comes to being ahead of the programming curve. He is also a showman, a gregarious former actor who loves going a few self-deprecating rounds with David Letterman on “Late Show” (Letterman calls the segments “More With Les”) and who relishes a challenge.
This is a guy who isn’t afraid to roll the dice, as he did in helping pave the way for Katie Couric replacing Rather as lead anchor on “The CBS Evening News.” Some bold moves clearly work better than others.
But what a lot of people may not fully understand is the sheer breadth of the universe over which Moonves presides. He oversees literally all operations of CBS Corp., which extends far beyond the parent network to the CW Network (a joint venture between CBS Corp. and Warner Bros. Entertainment), CBS Radio, Showtime and the Paramount International TV unit. (The latter sells CBS Paramount product to the international market.)
Moonves was also instrumental in bringing the CBS-owned UPN together with the Warner Bros.-owned WB to form the CW Network in January 2006. That turned out to be a shrewd move in that it rescued two entities doomed to imminent failure and blended them into a single burgeoning success — proving, as one observer noted at the time, that “two wrongs can make a right.”
Said Moonves of the MIPCOM award, in a statement: “The international market is an important part of CBS Corporation’s content and business operations, and I accept this honor on behalf of the talented team at CBS Paramount International Television, who make us look good in this arena every day.”
MORE MIPCOM 2007 COVERAGE
SHOWSTOPPERS: Are overseas markets cooling to U.S. hits?
AROUND THE DIAL: Global programming trends
A-LIST: Hot titles at this year’s market
SUBCONTINENTAL DIVIDE: Niches invade Indian market
DIALOGUE: KidsCo’s Paul Robinson
PROFILE: MIPCOM honoree Les Moonves