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CBS CEO Leslie Moonves recently opened up about his past rocky relationship with David Letterman as well as the possibility of a CBS and Viacom merger.
At Vanity Fair‘s New Establishment Summit on Wednesday morning in San Francisco, the exec expressed that he did not receive a warm welcome from the Late Show host when he first joined CBS.
“He hated me. He hated me when I walked in the door. He was there about a year before I got there,” said Moonves. “He just, generally speaking, didn’t like management. Management to him was like a bad thing.”
He added, “There was a certain point where I walked down the street and I went up to his office after the show and I went into his dressing room and we were alone and I said, ‘Do you have a problem with me?’ and he said, ‘What, do you think you’re the Mafia? Do you have a problem with me?'”
The relationship between the two ended up becoming material for Letterman during The Late Show.
“For the next six months, virtually every day, he would start his monologue and nobody got it,” said Moonves. “He’d look out to the audience. He says, ‘Do you have a problem with me?'”
Moonves previously hinted at his run-ins with Letterman when he told The Hollywood Reporter in 2015 (the year of Letterman’s retirement) that the late-night host is “extraordinarily sensitive.”
“He’d throw some jab at me and I’d say, ‘Well, the good news is you won’t be on the air much longer, so I won’t have to deal with this,'” said Moonves. The exec later expressed that Letterman has since been more accepting of him.
“Our relationship devolved to a better place. He had a child. He had a heart problem. He had some other issues,” said Moonves. “We were supportive, and suddenly he said, ‘You know what? This guy is not such a bad guy.’ Ultimately, I achieved what I wanted to, because guess what? He’s the talent. You’ve got to figure out how to deal with it.”
And when it comes to dealing with talent, Moonves said that he’ll go out on a limb for them, depending on their star power, citing how he dealt with Charlie Sheen’s infamous meltdown on Two and a Half Men.
“It depends on how well they’re doing,” said Moonves. “You’ll eat shit up to a certain point for a big star. If their ratings are really good, you’ve got to take a lot more. We stretched out on a limb for Charlie Sheen. Remember that show was doing really really well. It got to the point where it just didn’t work anymore.”
Moonves also was questioned about why he would not be for the potential CBS/Viacom merger, and he jokingly answered, “Because I’m too old, and too rich. How’s that? That’s a joke, ladies and gentlemen. That’s all I’m going to give you. We’re just starting a process to explore the possibilities. That’s all we’re doing. There are committees. There are bankers. There are lawyers.”
And when asked his thoughts about how NBC handled the whole Billy Bush/Donald Trump tape debacle, Moonves said he could understand NBC’s actions: “I think NBC did probably the right thing. He was an infotainment guy. It’s a question all news organizations are facing ourselves. I probably would have done what they did.”
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