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Frontrunners Emerge in Search for New CBS CEO (EXCLUSIVE)

John Martin Richard Parsons
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The roster of candidates to replace Leslie Moonves as permanent CBS Corp. CEO is beginning to take shape.

Former Turner Broadcasting CEO John Martin and newly added CBS board member Richard Parsons have emerged as two top external candidates for the chief-executive role, sources tell Variety. In addition, the CBS board of directors is expected to initiate a process that could see possible internal candidates such as acting CBS Corp. CEO Joseph Ianniello and Showtime CEO David Nevins make their cases for the job.

Variety has learned that Shari Redstone, head of National Amusements, Inc., which owns a controlling share of CBS, met with Martin some time in the last six weeks. The former Turner executive has since emerged as a potential frontrunner for the top CBS position. Martin exited Turner in June, where he had been CEO, after AT&T finalized its long-simmering acquisition of the company’s corporate parent Time Warner.

Parsons emerged as a top consigliere to Redstone in the now-settled legal fight between CBS and NAI and the negotiations for Moonves’ exit. A veteran executive, Parsons led Time Warner through the recovery from its disastrous marriage to AOL, and was recently added in an overhaul of the CBS board tied to Moonves’ ouster.

That board, of which Redstone is a member, is expected to initiate a process much like the one that took place following the removal of Philippe Dauman from his his post as CEO of Viacom, NAI’s other major media holding. Through that lengthy process, Bob Bakish, previously head of international television at Viacom, emerged to take the CEO role, besting a number of higher profile external candidates.

A representatives for NAI declined to comment for this story. A CBS rep also initially declined to comment. However, a CBS spokesperson later reached out to Variety with a brief statement, writing, “The board is leading the search. Joe Ianniello is a leading candidate.”

The CBS search process is expected to be highly formalized and feature detailed presentations from internal candidates. Among those potentials is Ianniello, the longtime CBS COO who was named interim CEO on Sunday. Ianniello was especially close to Moonves — a potential strike against him, given the enmity between Moonves and Redstone generated by the CBS-NAI legal fight, and the severity of the sexual assault and harassment allegations that ultimately felled the longtime CBS CEO. But the board is expected to take its time with a search for a permanent CEO, and believes that Ianniello provides stability in the interim — giving him what is in effect a lengthy audition for the permanent role.

In her statement Sunday announcing Moonves’ departure, Ianniello’s appointment as interim CEO, and the new additions to the CBS board of directors, Redstone wrote, “We are confident in Joe’s ability to serve as acting CEO and delighted to welcome our new directors, who bring valuable and diverse expertise and a strong commitment to corporate governance.”