×

A Reunited CBS and Viacom Will Mark the End of a Four-Year Battle for Shari Redstone

The mission is nearly complete.

It’s taken almost four years, but Shari Redstone has doggedly removed every obstacle that stood in the way of implementing her vision for the media empire assembled by her father, Sumner Redstone, 96, over the last half-century.

The long-simmering deal to reunite CBS Corp. and Viacom under the same corporate umbrella has been the elusive last step that is finally believed to be in Redstone’s grasp. Negotiations between the boards accelerated late last week, paving the way for a formal announcement expected this week. Shari Redstone, 65, is poised to become chairman of the combined company, the throne once occupied by her father. Her ascent would make her the only woman among the elite ranks of media moguls with iron-clad control of an entertainment-focused conglomerate. She joins Mary Pickford, a co-founder of United Artists, and Lucille Ball, whose Desilu banner bought RKO in 1957, on the short list of women who have had ownership stakes in major Hollywood studios.

Redstone has proven herself a formidable strategist, regardless of gender.

She may have been born to privilege as Sumner Redstone’s daughter, but no one can say that she didn’t have to fight her way to the top.

“She will be a powerful leader who isn’t afraid to use her power,” predicts Erik Gordon, a professor at University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. “This is a person who is willing to fight with boxing gloves or with bare knuckles.” Gordon adds that Redstone’s triumph in bringing CBS and Viacom together makes her a potent symbol for a different era of leadership. Redstone previously served as vice chair of the CBS and Viacom boards and remains president of National Amusements, the holding company for the Redstone family’s 80% controlling interest in Viacom and CBS Corp.

“I think she will be as tough and as calculating as any male chairman we have seen,” Gordon says. “Nobody should underestimate what she’s capable of.”

Shari Redstone’s quest to realign the family business began in earnest in October 2015, when she took charge of her ailing father’s affairs. She spearheaded a coordinated strike with lawyers and Sumner Redstone’s household staff to eject her father’s former girlfriend turned live-in companion, Manuela Herzer, from his home in the ritzy Beverly Park estates.

Shari Redstone has maintained in legal filings that Herzer sought to manipulate her father, at the expense of his health, into giving her money and assets. Herzer countered that Sumner Redstone had made it clear that he did not want his daughter calling the shots in his personal life or at his companies.

Shari Redstone’s move sparked a lawsuit from Herzer that opened a Pandora’s box for all those in the Redstone orbit. In the storm of litigation that followed, Shari Redstone was not spared as details of her strained family relationships emerged, along with tabloid-worthy details of her father’s unconventional life as a lion in winter.

The lawsuit from Herzer led to pressure to have Sumner Redstone’s mental competency evaluated by professionals. Those questions, in turn, reached the boardrooms at CBS Corp. and Viacom, where Sumner Redstone still served as chairman at the time. He was ousted by shareholders of the two companies in 2006.

Sumner Redstone bought CBS Corp. in 2000 and merged it with Viacom, the owner of MTV, Nickelodeon and other cable channels, which National Amusements acquired in 1987. But when Viacom’s share price slumped in 2005, Redstone decided the answer was to split the companies into separate entities again, albeit still under his control. The reunion of Viacom and CBS will likely be completed on a much speedier timeline than typical media megamergers because the companies are viewed by the Securities and Exchange Commission and other regulators as already having common ownership.

Shari Redstone’s litigation with Herzer presaged bitter public legal battles with former Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman and another longtime Sumner Redstone confidant, attorney George Abrams over control of her father’s estate. Within months, Dauman and Abrams were out of their positions of power on the Redstone trust and the National Amusements board. Dauman was also forced to resign as CEO of Viacom, and the board that had staunchly backed Dauman despite the company’s poor performance was overhauled.

In 2018, CBS Corp. went to war with Shari Redstone, accusing her of breaching her fiduciary duty to shareholders by trying to force a merger with Viacom. The CBS regime, then led by CEO Leslie Moonves, saw the re-merger scenario as an attempted rescue mission that would hurt CBS in the long run. But once again, after a few months of battle, Moonves was the one to blink, when his position was undermined by sexual misconduct allegations from his past that surfaced in a New Yorker exposé. Moonves was ultimately fired, and the CBS board was reconstituted last September.

Getting CBS and Viacom back to the altar has been an epic journey for Shari Redstone. But now that she is getting ready to take on the chairman role, the next chapter has already started. The enlarged company, to be led by Viacom CEO Bob Bakish, still has to do battle in an unpredictable marketplace against larger rivals.

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • ITV STUDIOS PRESENTS VERAFILM 2Pictured: BRENDA

    Brenda Blethyn to Star in New ITV Sitcom 'Kate and Kolo'

    Oscar-nominated Brenda Blethyn is set to star in the new sitcom “Kate and Kolo” for ITV, the U.K. broadcaster announced at the Edinburgh TV Festival. Blethyn takes on the title role of Kate in the comedy alongside theater and film actor Jimmy Akingbola as Kolo. Blethyn is a popular star with ITV audiences after having [...]

  • Sean Spicer Emmys

    Sean Spicer's Casting Explained? Red States Love 'Dancing With the Stars'

    ABC faced backlash this week after casting former White House press secretary Sean Spicer on “Dancing with the Stars.” But that outrage might actually spice up the dancing competition’s dwindling ratings — particularly in Trump Country. “Dancing with the Stars” has faced a relatively alarming decline in ratings over the past two cycles, falling 32% [...]

  • Peppa Pig

    Hasbro Acquires Entertainment One in $4 Billion All-Cash Deal

    Toymaker Hasbro is acquiring studio Entertainment One in an all-cash transaction valued at $4 billion, bringing My Little Pony and Nerf under the same umbrella as “Peppa Pig” and “PJ Masks” and furthering Hasbro’s growth goals in the infant and preschool categories. Hasbro aims to expand its operations in film and TV. Entertainment One’s production [...]

  • Sarah Michelle Gellar

    'Other People's Houses' Starring Sarah Michelle Gellar in the Works at Fox

    Sarah Michelle Gellar is looking to reunite with “Ringer” creators Eric Charmelo and Nicole Snyder on a dramedy co-produced by Fox Entertainment and UTV. Fox is developing “Other People’s Houses,” Variety has learned, and has given the project a script commitment. Charmelo and Snyder will write and executive produce, while Neil Meron, Sarah Michelle Gellar [...]

  • Ann Sarnoff Warner Bros

    Ann Sarnoff Formally Takes Reins of Warner Bros. as CEO

    The Ann Sarnoff era at Warner Bros. has begun. Sarnoff formally took the reins as Warner Bros. chair-CEO on Thursday, two months after she was appointed to the post. Sarnoff told employees in a memo that she has been impressed by the company’s track record during the past year amid a period of upheaval for [...]

  • Jamie-Lynn Sigler'Woke Up This Morning: The

    ‘Sopranos’ Cast Members to Present at VMAs in New Jersey

    The VMAs will reunite “Sopranos” castmates for the big awards show happening Monday night in Newark, New Jersey — right next door to America’s favorite crime family.  Drea De Matteo (who played the mobster girlfriend-turned F.B.I. informant Adriana La Cerva), Jamie-Lynn Sigler (who played Tony Soprano’s precocious daughter Meadow Soprano) and Vincent Pastore (who played [...]

  • The L Word

    'The L Word: Generation Q' Teaser Unites Original Cast, New Characters

    Showtime has released the first look at the next generation of “The L Word” and its new cast including Rosanny Zayas, Jacqueline Toboni, Sepideh Moafi, Arienne Mandi, and Micah Lee. Along with some of the original cast, including Jennifer Beals, Leisha Hailey, and Katherine Moennig, the series sequel picks up where its creator Ilene Chaiken [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content