The Sleazy, Slimy Drama Behind the Redstone Succession Fight

The Sleazy, Slimy Drama Behind the Redstone Succession Fight

It’s hardly a revelation that the media and entertainment mogul summer red stone— who controlled two of the most influential companies on the planet, More and CBS, almost until his death in 2020 at the age of 97, was something of a monster; it evoked, by most accounts, an exaggerated combination of Shakespeare’s King Lear and Goya’s “Saturn Devouring His Children”.

It’s also not big news that disgraced the former CBS chairman and CEO. Leslie Moonve– at his peak, the most successful and highest-earning ruler of the Redstone Empire, until his forced resignation in 2018 – stands credibly accused by several women of sexual harassment and worse.

Of course, the co-authors James B. Stewart and Rachel Abrams took on an epic challenge in making their book Unscripted: The Epic Battle for a Hollywood Media Empire and the Legacy of the Redstone Family, a must read for anyone who has followed the juicy saga in real time.

Do not worry.

Abrams, a New York Times investigative journalist, and Stewart, a Time The business columnist – both Pulitzer Prize winners – wrote a jaw-dropping thread about how two publicly traded companies including an iconic movie studio (Paramount), the top-rated broadcast network (CBS) , dozens of local television stations and several popular cable television stations (including MTV, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and Showtime), as well as a prestigious book publisher (Simon & Schuster), were victims of a gallery crooks of crooks, sycophants, incompetents and gold diggers who have been empowered by a once brilliant damaged psyche and gratuitous megalomania of the business tycoon.

“Unscripted” contains surprises even for journalists, like me, who occasionally covered Moonves and spent time in the distorted presence of Redstone.

In the book’s parallel narrative, Abrams and Stewart add new facts to the story of Moonves’ downfall, including his desperate campaign to cover up his sordid past, especially after learning that the new yorkerRonan Farrow was in the hunt. Moonves wrongly blamed Shari, daughter of Redstone, vice president of CBS and increasingly powerful rival, for her public relations problems, and met, texted and socialized again and again with an unlucky talent agent who represented one of his alleged victims and took advantage of Moonves’ growing distress for his own benefit, the authors report.

Paramount Global Non-Executive Chairman and National Amusements President Shari Redstone arrives at the Allen and Co. Sun Valley Annual Media Conference in Sun Valley, Idaho on July 5, 2022.

Brendan McDermid/Reuters

In the context of the complicity of Harvey Weinstein and the multitude of wealthy and powerful disbelievers held accountable by the #MeToo movement, it is mystifying that Moonves chose this moment of maximum vulnerability to sue the Redstones and their cinema-owning holding company. , National Amusements, in a quixotic effort to block CBS’s merger with Viacom and remove Shari from control of the company by diluting her and her father’s voting stock.

The ignorance of Team Moonves, even after the publication of Farrow is devastating New Yorker expose, was personified by Arnold Kopelson, a member of the board of directors of CBS, Hollywood producer and ardent supporter of Moonves. A decade earlier, Kopelson had ignored overwhelming evidence of the CEO’s sexual misconduct, even though the victim in that case was a close friend who also happened to be Kopelson’s diabetes doctor.

Dr. Anne Peters, director of the clinical diabetes program at the University of Southern California, agreed to see Moonves, also a diabetic, at Kopelson’s request in 1999. The authors write that during their 7:00 a.m. appointment :

Moonves grabbed her, pulled her against him and made squeaky movements. His penis was erect…Peters pushed him away, but he tried to take his shirt off and get into his pants. Peters managed to push him away.

“Oh, you’re gonna be like that,” Moonves said. Moonves went to the corner of the room and masturbated. He left the room without saying anything more.

When Peters reported the incident to the hospital, she was warned that Moonves had ‘more money for lawyers’ than the hospital and was told ‘to refrain from officially reporting this incident to the police. because I would lose in court,” she recalls.

But Peters had given Kopelson a detailed account of what had happened. In 2007, when Kopelson was nominated to the CBS board of directors, she urged him to reject the job because of Moonves’ behavior. Kopelson had dismissed his worries as “insignificant”. He said the encounter took place years ago and, in any event, “we all did it”.

Unscripted contains surprises even for journalists, like me, who occasionally covered for Moonves and spent time in Redstone’s warped presence to combat his reality warping field. Probably the most amazing story – meticulously presented here in viscous detail – is how the nonagenarian billionaire’s two lovers moved into his Beverly Park mansion, repeatedly persuaded him to change his will in their favor, took control of his life and health care decisions, blocked the Redstone family’s access (by lying to the old man that his daughter and grandchildren didn’t love him and called him never) and sometimes even refused phone calls from his own doctor.

Former CBS chairman Les Moonves in Manhattan, New York on September 8, 2015.

Brendan McDermid/Reuters

Together, the two women took over $150 million from Redstone’s bank accounts and stock, and nearly took control of his empire. The tag team of Manuela Herzer and Sydney Holland (who had accepted extremely jealous Redstone’s offer to become his third wife) might have succeeded had it not been for their bitter dispute over Holland’s handkerchief with a handsome fraudster , a convicted felon and a failed soap opera. actor named George Pilgrim; the actor’s dangerous affair with Redstone’s fiancee – once Herzer forced Holland to confess to the old man – ultimately torpedoed their carefully laid plans.

Pilgrim’s Progress Chronicle – filled with sexually provocative videos, as well as text and voice messages provided to authors by Pilgrim (“I need my dick sucked,” he once wrote to Holland, who replied, “I’d love to do that soon”) – provides a treasure trove of craziness, testament to the human capacity for reckless self-indulgence.

Indeed, as her would-be husband-to-be sank into dementia and physical ruin (eventually requiring a feeding tube to stay alive), Holland regularly booked a $7,900 round-trip private jet — at the expense of from Redstone, of course – for sex sessions with Pilgrim in Arizona and Los Angeles; Meanwhile, the authors report that in 2014 alone, she and Herzer managed to bill Redstone’s credit cards for $3.5 million, not to mention the stacks of $100 bills that were delivered to the mansion each week. from Beverly Park.

Manuela Herzer, the former girlfriend of Sumner Redstone, 92, in Los Angeles on May 6, 2016.

Kevork Djansezian/Reuters

In terms of journalistic coups, however, Abrams and Stewart’s most significant success – aside from what they describe as having benefited from “a treasure trove of documents provided by confidential sources” – was probably gaining the full cooperation of Sumner’s daughter. , press-shy Shari, who “answered all our questions directly or through a spokesperson, and assisted in fact-checking, as did [her adult sons] Tyler and Brandon Korff.

A Boston University-educated corporate lawyer, she initially resisted taking an active role in the family business and, as the authors write, her “relationship with her father was, to say the least, complicated. . Over the years, she had clashed violently with her father, sometimes publicly. At the same time, she needed his affection and approval, which he often dangled in front of her (especially when he needed something), but then withdrew.

Redstone “often ignored her ideas and belittled her in meetings,” they write. “Sumner may have loved Shari in his own way, but as an executive he held her to the same exacting standards as anyone who worked for him, perhaps even higher. In matters of business, Sumner often treated her as a rival, another competitor to be overcome.

When she stood up to some of her ill-advised schemes – excluding, for example, Redstone pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into a struggling video game company, a stake that was ultimately discharged for only $100,000 – “Shari’s anger was nonetheless moderate compared to her father’s fury at his defiance of her wishes,” the authors write. administration – practically to anyone who wanted to listen. He bombarded her with profanity emails and faxes, copying Viacom executives, even repeatedly calling her the four letters ‘vs-word,’ as it was delicately described inside the company. When his lawyer and longtime confidant George Abrams, among those copied on the missives, pleaded with Sumner not to use such hurtful language, he erupted, insisting he would call his daughter whatever he pleased. .

Redstone, who loved press attention, rarely missed an opportunity to publicly humiliate his daughter, giving multiple interviews in which he expressed doubts about his qualifications to be her successor.

Routinely underestimated by executives such as Moonves and Redstone Chief Facilitator, Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman, Shari nonetheless hung on. His older brother Brent – who joined the company early on, working briefly and sadly for Viacom – stopped talking to their father altogether, moved to a ranch in Colorado and sued Redstone for over $1 billion.

Shari, 68, now president of National Amusements and non-executive chairman of Paramount Global (since ViacomCBS after the merger was rebranded last year), is surely the heroine of this saga. She banished Herzer and Holland, triumphed over Moonves and Dauman, and managed to stabilize the struggling empire with her hiring of Bob Bakish to run the newly merged company. He “warmly welcomed Shari’s ideas and involvement”. write the authors.

“By most objective measures, Shari got the better of the merger and its choice of Bakish as CEO. In the two years he chaired Viacom, Bakish had brought the company back from the brink… After long portraying herself as a reluctant mogul, Shari told friends and advisers she loved her new role.

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