Inside CBS, Leslie Moonves' Exit Sparks Fear and Outrage

Leslie Moonves_3 - Getty - H 2018
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for CBS Films

Moonves’ departure means control shifts to Shari Redstone, who has been locked in a bitter legal battle with Moonves and the majority of the CBS board.

CBS employees awoke to a horror show on Sunday morning when they read Ronan Farrow's devastating follow-up to his July 27 article in The New Yorker alleging sexual misconduct on the part of the company's chairman and CEO, Leslie Moonves.

Now, as the CBS board prepares to announce the exit of one of the most iconic leaders in Hollywood history, the fallout is beginning. Among those loyal to Moonves (and even those who weren't), there is fear that his exit will lead to a purge of top staff and other upheaval.

Moonves' fall means control shifts to Shari Redstone, who has been locked in a bitter legal battle with Moonves and the majority of the CBS board.

"The question becomes, should 20,000 people pay the price for this stuff?" one CBS insider asks, adding, "I was not born when a lot of this [alleged behavior] happened." Farrow's piece details graphic on-the-record allegations from several women, some of whom said Moonves forced sex acts on them.

Others said he harmed their careers when they rejected his advances. Moonves responded in a statement that some of the relationships were consensual and dismissed other accounts as lies.

Some who have devoted years to CBS and taken pride in the company's record of success are trying to process the appalling downfall of their charismatic longtime leader.

"It's all ashes," says one. Adds another, "The company trusted him and that trust was clearly misplaced. Now [Shari Redstone] gets to smash the company."

Analyst Rich Greenfield predicts Redstone will now merge CBS and Viacom, a move that Moonves had opposed.

A representative for National Amusements, the holding company that controls Viacom and CBS, declined to comment, but it is expected that Redstone will work quickly to calm the waters at CBS.

It appeared that following publication of Farrow's first article, which included claims by actress Ileana Douglas, producer Christine Peters and others of unwanted touching and other misconduct, some CBS executives close to Moonves had questioned him and been assured that there were no other such incidents in his past.

Though the initial story was hard to digest, there were elements that led to doubts among those predisposed to be loyal to Moonves.

CBS Films president Terry Press asked in a Facebook post whether it was fair to examine "the industry as it existed decades before through the lens of 2018." But others foresaw the end.

"I think it's inevitable that Les is history at CBS," longtime media analyst Porter Bibb said on CNBC as the CBS stock was sliding following the first report. And one industry veteran noted, "In every one of these cases so far, there's been a second round [of allegations]. Every single one of them. That'll sink the ship."

Moonves had some enemies in the industry who believed the worst about him, but others were shocked by the claims. "He's always won me over and been nothing but classy and respectful and supportive to me," says a female television executive who formerly worked at CBS. "It's so hard to reconcile the Les I've known for 20 years with this Les."

Now the battle shifts to what, if anything, CBS will pay Moonves to go away. Sources say CBS, controlled by Redstone, intends to claw back any severance that he may have been promised.

Several industry sources predict Moonves will be fired "for cause," allowing the company to withhold contractual separation payments. Moonves would then be forced to accept the loss of $100 million or more in severance or fight in a public legal forum.

It is unclear whether the ongoing investigation of Moonves conducted by two outside law firms will continue after his exit, but presumably it will, and if it produces results that are damaging to Moonves, that could provide the basis to recover any settlement money.

Time's Up, the industry-backed advocacy group formed amid the #MeToo movement, on Sunday put out a statement, warning, "We will accept nothing less than full transparency of the investigation's findings, a commitment to real change across all levels of CBS management and no reward for Les Moonves."

And amid shell-shocked CBS employees, confusion and chaos is coupled with anger over the new claims. And CBS talent is beginning to speak out.

Rachel Bloom, star of the CBS-produced CW show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, did not mince words in a tweet Sunday.

"As an employee of CBS, I would just like to say that Les Moonves should be fired without getting a fucking dollar," she wrote. "The actions described in this article are those of sexual assault and shame on anyone else in the corporation who knew about his crimes."