“I have two great guys in Tom Freston and Leslie Moonves. I consider both of them creative geniuses,” Viacom chairman-CEO Sumner Redstone said this month.
But only one will inherit the CEO baton when he retires within three years. So industry antennae are upfor Tom-ish or Les-ish vibes, but Freston is not that committed to being a “suit” for the rest of his life.
Suspense so early in the game is exacerbated by the open spot atop Disney and a plethora of No. 2 execs elsewhere as prime candidates.
Freston is grappling with a sickly studio and much rides on his choice of successor to Sherry Lansing.
The rocky ride at CBS News? Not great for Moonves. Neither is the sluggish radio biz. Redstone calls radio Viacom’s main sore spot. He often adds, ominously, “But Les says he’ll fix it.”
Bob Pittman and Dick Parsons were once co-No. 2s of Time Warner. Pittman was dispatched to Virginia to “fix” AOL — and kept on moving, right out the door. OK, the only similarity is the “fix it” mandate, but it was a tall order in both cases.
Maybe none of this matters. “The reality is that it’s going to come down to whatever Sumner wants,” says one Wall Streeter.
He figures Freston, cable whiz and longtime Redstone colleague, has the inside track. Coincidentally, friends of Moonves and Freston have observed that both have found major headaches in their new responsibilities and have found their “promotions” to be a mixed blessing.
Moonves orchestrated a brilliant turnaround at CBS. But he’s a relative newcomer at Viacom and a “Mel Karmazin appointee.”
Who knows? Pittman was once hailed as the next Time Warner chief.