September 10, 2018 / 7:36 PM / a month ago

Breakingviews - CBS cancels melodrama in favor of steady series

NEW YORK (Reuters Breakingviews) - Two twisted sagas playing out at CBS have come to a neat ending. Longtime CBS boss Les Moonves has stepped down after fresh allegations of sexual assault – while at the same time, a truce between controlling owner Shari Redstone and the $21 billion media firm has ushered in some new checks and balances. A much-needed spell of normality is within the company’s reach.

The CBS "eye" and logo are seen outside the CBS Broadcast Center on West 57th St. in Manhattan, New York, U.S. on April 29, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

First, a recap: earlier this year, Moonves and most of CBS’s directors launched a campaign to reduce the 80 percent share of company’s votes held by the Redstone family and its investment vehicle National Amusements. Their goal was to thwart a potential merger with Viacom, CBS’s former sister company in which the Redstone clan also wield control. Tit-for-tat lawsuits flew; a trial was expected to start in October.

In parallel, the New Yorker accused Moonves – in two separate articles – of sexual harassment and forcing himself on women, over two decades. Moonves denied the allegations. But he stood to walk away with more than $180 million in a lavish compensation package if fired without being officially deemed to have done something wrong.

The pressure piled on Moonves and CBS’s board has forced a resolution to both issues. Moonves’ exit package is on ice until an investigation into his activities has closed. On Sunday, CBS and National Amusements also agreed that the controlling shareholders won’t push a reunification of CBS and Viacom for two years – though either company and their independent directors are still free to explore one if they want.

Stripped of the melodrama, CBS is actually in decent shape. Since 2006, when Moonves took over, the shares have about doubled. He ran the media firm efficiently, making it the most watched American broadcast network. It can remain so without him. If anything, his quest to wrest control away from the Redstones turned out to be an unnecessary and potentially damaging distraction.

Meanwhile CBS now has six new board members, and six of its 13 directors overall will be women. Moving from high drama to a steady series is a good outcome.

Breakingviews

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