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As Leslie Moonves Exits CBS, Attention Turns to Top Execs

With CEO Leslie Moonves’ departure from CBS expected to be finalized within the next 24 hours, industry attention will turn quickly to the future of a company that, until recently, had been widely viewed as a model of stability.

Moonves — who on Sunday was the subject of a New Yorker article that detailed new sexual assault and harassment allegations against him — has largely defined CBS’ corporate culture. Nearly every top level executive at the company was hired by Moonves, who first joined as entertainment president in 1995 and has been the company’s top executive since its split with Viacom in 2006.

Joseph Ianniello, CBS’ chief execut officer, is expected to take over as chief executive with Moonves’ exit. Long considered Moonves’ handpicked successor to take over the company upon his eventual retirement, Ianniello is expected to be given a chance to compete for the chief-executive post on a permanent basis. However, given the severity of the new allegations, hiring a CEO as close to Moonves as Ianniello is may be a non-starter. Even before the publication of the new allegations Sunday, CBS board members and parent company National Amusements, with whom Moonves had been locked in a heated legal battle for control of CBS, had been under pressure to take decisive action on Moonves’ future in the wake of previous misconduct allegations. Entertainment-industry group Time’s Up last week issued a statement insisting that Moonves not be given a “golden parachute.”

Whether and how long Moonves’ other top lieutenants stay in place will depend largely on what happens post-transition at the CEO level — and whether NAI eventually attempts to merge CBS with Viacom, or the company becomes involved in another acquisition play with another partner. Some top executives, such as communications chief Gil Schwartz and ad-sales head Jo Ann Ross are nearing retirement age. A sooner-rather-than-later exit for some long-tenured execs may be the most sensible outcome. Ross was an early supporter of Moonves when, in July, the New Yorker published initial sexual misconduct allegations against Moonves. “Leslie has always been an advocate and mentor to me, showing me the deepest respect at all times,” Ross told Variety at the time. “He has never been threatening or abusive. In fact, Leslie has been my ‘go to’ through any challenges. There has never been an issue that I have broached with him where I felt at risk of being treated differently than a male executive would be treated. Leslie has made me a better executive, and I have learned how to lead from him.”

On the programming side, no major changes are expected in the immediate future, although some shifts in long term are probably inevitable. CBS Entertainment president Kelly Kahl and CBS Television Studios chief David Stapf are both longtime Moonves deputies who accompanied the exec to CBS from Warner Bros. Stapf has overseen the studio since the split with Viacom, developing a host of successful dramas for the network. In more recent years, the studio has found success creating critical success such as “Jane the Virgin” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” for the CW; relaunching the “Star Trek” franchise and developing a programming slate for CBS All Access; and selling original projects to streaming services such as Netflix, for which “American Vandal” was a surprise buzz generator. Kahl, the longtime scheduling head at the CBS television network, was promoted to president last year. Working with top programming exec Thom Sherman — a rare outsider in the CBS exec ranks, brought over last year from the CW to serves as senior executive VP — Kahl developed a slate for 2018-19 that was widely credited as representing progress toward addressing CBS’ longstanding diversity issues. Kahl also received positive reviews for his appearance this summer at the Television Critics Association press tour, where he fielded questions from reporters about the allegations against Moonves and the culture at CBS.

CBS Interactive CEO Jim Lanzone, who joined the company in 2011, is a Silicon Valley transplant whose CBS tenure is not quite as long as his colleagues. Lanzone oversees a growing portfolio of direct-to-consumer streaming products including subscription service All Access, ad-supported for news (CBSN) and sports (CBS Sports Network), and a forthcoming “Entertainment Tonight”-branded digital service.

CBS News has also come under fire, with reports describing a culture permissive toward abusive behavior. Those reports have centered on “60 Minutes” producer Jeff Fager, but he and news president David Rhodes will likely face only increased scrutiny during a transition process. And with Moonves leaving, questions about the future of Moonves’ wife, Julie Chen, will likely intensify. One of CBS most high-profile on-screen talents, Chen hosts the “Big Brother” franchise and is co-host of “The Talk.” Whether Chen, who has publicly defended Moonves, can remain a viable presence on CBS in the wake of her husband’s departure under assault allegations remains to be seen.

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