CBS Corp.’s board of directors former Chief Executive Leslie Moonves should be fired for “cause,” saying the longtime television executive violated company policies by committing “willful and material misfeasance.” The determination means he is not entitled to $120 million in severance.
The board’s finding, announced Monday, said the longtime chief had sought to undermine the company’s investigation into his alleged sexual misconduct. Two high-profile New York law firms have spent the last four months reviewing Moonves’ conduct after allegations of sexual harassment came to light.
The board’s finding completes a spectacular fall from the pinnacle of power for a man who, just a few months ago, was widely considered the most successful executive in television. He becomes the highest-profile media executive to watch his career — and his once-sterling legacy — collapse under the weight of sexual misconduct allegations unearthed amid the #MeToo era.
Moonves, who was forced to resign Sept. 9, can challenge the findings in arbitration.
Over the years, the 69-year-old executive helped shape events that would become part of American pop culture, including NFL Super Bowls and half-time performances, such as the infamous 2004 Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction” to the high-profile jettisoning of actor Charlie Sheen from the sitcom “Two and a Half Men.”
Moonves was instrumental in the creation of such hits as “Friends,” “E.R.,” “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” “NCIS” and “The Big Bang Theory,” and he grudgingly served as longtime foil of David Letterman, CBS’ former late night talk show host, as the two had a stormy relationship.
The strong-willed executive, who began his career as a middling actor, assumed control of a moribund TV network in 1995 and molded CBS into America’s most-watched television service. He innately understood the value of hit programming, and demanded that cable operators pay to carry CBS station signals — helping ensure a revenue stream that has become crucial to the survival of broadcast TV. He recognized the value of older shows in CBS’ library, such as “I Love Lucy” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
Moonves also was one of America’s highest-paid executives. Last year he collected a compensation package valued at nearly $70 million. Much of that was from CBS stock, which he guided to great heights. Forbes has estimated Moonves’ wealth at $700 million.
CBS shares closed down 2.6 percent Monday, to $46.82. They are down about 18 percent this year.
Nearly all of the allegations of sexual harassment against Moonves were decades old — long before he ascended to chief executive of CBS Corp. in 2006 following the corporate breakup of CBS and Viacom Inc. However, Moonves sought to downplay their significance. That conduct reportedly proved troubling to the investigators who were hired in August to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct. The review launched after the publication of a New Yorker article that contained several women’s allegations that Moonves forced himself on them in business settings when they were looking for work, or had jobs, in the entertainment industry.
During the last four months, the investigators interviewed more than 350 people. The review was expanded to include scrutiny of CBS’ overall culture, sweeping in other executives’ conduct at CBS News and beyond.