In a surprise move, CBS’ board of directors is keeping Leslie Moonves in place as chairman-CEO even as it launches a probe of sexual assault allegations leveled against him by six women in a New Yorker expose.
The board also decided to postpone for the second time CBS’ annual shareholders meeting, which had been set for Aug. 10 in Pasadena.
A board meeting that ran about three hours was held by teleconference Monday, three days after the report by journalist Ronan Farrow detailing accusations of sexual misconduct by six women, some stretching back to the 1980s. A statement from CBS on the meeting said the board was “in the process of selecting outside counsel to conduct an independent investigation. No other action was taken on this matter at today’s board meeting.” The board considered a range of topics during the meeting, according to a person familiar with the matter, but Moonves’ status was not put to a vote, and the CEO was said to have participated in various parts of the proceedings.
CBS shares fell 5% in trading Monday amid the fallout from the New Yorker expose and speculation that Moonves’ days at the helm are numbered.
In the report, actress Illeana Douglas detailed her allegation that Moonves held her down on a couch and tried to kiss her when she was working on the CBS comedy pilot “Queens” in 1997. She also asserted that he tried to renege on her contract and eventually blackballed her from working at CBS.
Moonves issued a statement to the New Yorker expressing regret for having “made some women uncomfortable by making advances,” though he did not formally apologize. He denied ever using his position to “harm or hinder anyone’s career.”
The allegations and the prospect of Moonves making a hasty exit after 12 years as CEO have battered CBS’ stock, which dropped more than 4% in trading Monday after a 6% plunge on Friday.
One of the most successful programmers in TV history, Moonves has been a towering figure at CBS since 1995. His departure will be felt at all levels of the CBS network operation, Showtime, the CW (CBS’ joint venture with Warner Bros.), Simon & Schuster, and CBS Interactive. It also comes as CBS is wrapped up in a larger corporate legal drama involving its controlling shareholder, Shari Redstone and her National Amusements, Inc. Redstone and Moonves have been at odds over the direction of the company and her hope of reuniting CBS and Viacom — a fight that erupted into lawsuits in May. Moonves’ hasty exit may clear the path for Redstone to orchestrate the reunion of NAI’s media companies that were split apart in 2006.
CBS’ 11 independent board members — those without ties to NAI — have been so staunchly supportive of Moonves at NAI’s expense during the past few months that a housecleaning by Redstone is expected. Redstone has the power to overhaul the board through NAI’s ownership of nearly 80% of the voting shares in CBS.
CBS is set to report its second quarter earnings on Aug. 2.