Viacom's Top Lawyer Michael Fricklas to Depart Company

The general counsel who worked on the copyright suit with YouTube, the war with the Redstone family, and an aborted CBS merger, is assisting the media conglomerate in looking for his replacement.

Viacom general counsel Michael Fricklas is moving on after nearly a quarter-century at the media giant. Just a day after Viacom announced a broad strategic refocus under the company's new chief executive, Bob Bakish, the announcement of his departure was made in a memo to Viacom employees. 

Fricklas, a 56-year-old Boston University law grad who was initially an engineer, has helped guide the company that oversees Paramount Pictures, MTV, Comedy Central and other big properties through some rough times, including most recently, the dispute between the Sumner Redstone family and ex-CEO Philippe Dauman over corporate control. That ordeal tested Fricklas' loyalties, and for a while, it appeared as though Viacom's top lawyer would survive and be with the company's new administration into the future.

In his employment contract, Fricklas had an "out" in the event that Dauman was no longer in charge of the company, and after Dauman departed, a 90-day extension was negotiated. According to a securities filing by Viacom yesterday, his deal allowed him to resign for "good reason" and still be entitled to 18 months' salary and pro-rated bonuses. 

Over the last few months, Fricklas has worked on merger discussions with CBS, but those talks fell apart. The company is now looking to focus on its six core flagship brands (MTV, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., Comedy Central, BET and Paramount), the rebranding of Spike TV to Paramount Network, as well as digital and short-film endeavors.

Fricklas made waves in the entertainment community during his tenure. Perhaps most famously, he was the architect of a long copyright fight with YouTube after the birth of the social media company. That lawsuit, which helped clarify liability and safe harbors for internet service providers, was eventually settled with Viacom beginning to jump into digital waters with bigger splashes.

"We’re grateful that he leaves us with such a deep and talented team, and that he’ll be staying on through the transition as we work to identify his successor," stated a memo from Bakish. "We’ve already started the search, which we hope to be back to you shortly with news on."

Viacom is looking both internally and externally for a replacement.