American television executiveLeslie Roy Moonves (/ˈmuːnvɛz/; born October 6, 1949) is an American media executive who served as the Chairman and CEO of CBS Corporation from 2003 until his resignation in September 2018 following numerous allegations of sexual harassment and abuse. He has been married to TV personality Julie Chen since 2004.
He had held a series of executive positions at CBS from July 1995 to September 2018. He has been on the board of directors at ZeniMax Media since 1999. Later, he was co-president and co-chief operating officer (COO) of the original Viacom, Inc., the legal predecessor to CBS Corporation, from 2004 until the company split in December 2005. He became Chairman of CBS in February 2016. In September 2018, Moonves stepped down as Chairman of CBS after multiple women brought forth sexual misconduct allegations against him. Moonves allegedly destroyed evidence of his sexual misconduct.
According to various media reports, Moonves has amassed a net worth of over US$800 million as a result of extremely generous compensation packages from CBS, with Moonves earning US$68.4 million in 2017, combined with stock options of the media company, worth over US$100 million. It was reported that Moonves was entitled to a severance package of over US$240 million from CBS; however, this has been suspended pending the outcome of several sexual abuse allegations against him.
Leslie Roy Moonves was born in Brooklyn, New York City, to a Jewish family in New York City, the son of Josephine (Schleifer) and Herman Moonves, and grew up in Valley Stream, New York. His mother was a nurse. He has one sister, Melissa Moonves Colon, and two brothers, including entertainment attorney Jonathan Moonves. He attended Valley Stream Central High School and went to Bucknell University, graduating in 1971. In his sophomore year he decided that his science courses were unfulfilling and switched his major from pre-medical to Spanish (a subject he found vastly more enjoyable) and acted in a few plays; following graduation in 1971 he moved to Manhattan to pursue an acting career where he eventually graduated from the Neighborhood Playhouse. He landed a few parts, playing tough guys on Cannon and The Six Million Dollar Man, which he described as "forgettable" TV roles, before deciding on the career change. He also worked as one of casting director Caro Jones' first office assistants early in her career.
Moonves was in charge of first-run syndication and pay/cable programming at 20th Century Fox Television. Also at 20th Century Fox Television, he was vice president of movies and mini-series. Other positions included vice president of development at Saul Ilson Productions (in association with Columbia Pictures Television) and development executive for Catalina Productions.
Lorimar Television and Warner Bros. Television (1985-1995)
Moonves joined Lorimar Television in 1985 as executive in charge of its movies and mini-series, and in 1988, became head of creative affairs. From 1990 to 1993, he was president at Lorimar. In July 1993, he became president/CEO of Warner Bros. Television, when Warner Bros. and Lorimar Television combined operations. In this phase of his career, he green-lighted the shows Friends and ER, among many others.
He joined CBS in July 1995 as President of CBS Entertainment. From April 1998 until 2003, he was president and chief executive officer at CBS Television, then was promoted to chairman and CEO of CBS in 2003. In 2003, CBS had six of the ten most-watched primetime shows in the final quarter of 2005: CSI, Without a Trace, CSI: Miami, Survivor: Guatemala, NCIS, and Cold Case.
In February 2005, Moonves was identified as the executive directly responsible for ordering the cancellation of UPN's Star Trek: Enterprise and the ending of the 18-year revival of the Star Trek television franchise. In January 2006, Moonves helped make the deal that brought together the CBS-owned United Paramount Network (UPN) with The WB Television Network to form The CW Television Network that fall.
Moonves was the second-most highly-paid director for 2012 and 2013: he received $58.8 million and $65.4 million. He is considered the second-highest paid CEO, having been paid $68.4 million in 2017.
In 2013, Moonves was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame. He became chairman of CBS in February 2016.
Of the tone of the 2016 Republican presidential campaign and the advertising dollars it delivered, Moonves said, "It may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS." He added, "Donald's place in this election is a good thing."
In September 2018, following allegations of sexual assault against him, it was reported that CBS was negotiating a $100-million exit package for Moonves and that CBS Chief Operating Officer Joe Ianniello would serve as his interim replacement. On September 9, 2018, CBS Corporation announced he had resigned and Joe Iannello would become interim CEO. Moonves and CBS will donate $20 million to the #MeToo movement, money that will be deducted from any severance benefits Moonves may be owed, the company said. The donation to charities promoting women’s equality in the workplace will come upon the conclusion of an independent investigation into the allegations, according to the statement.
Howard Stern litigation
In February 2006, Moonves led CBS to file a $500-million lawsuit against Howard Stern for allegedly breaching his contract by failing to disclose the details of his deal with Sirius Satellite Radio while still employed by Infinity Broadcasting. Stern vowed to fight the suit, and said on his radio program that Moonves and CBS were trying to "bully" him and his agent, Don Buchwald. Stern later appeared on CBS' own Late Show with David Letterman, wearing a shirt mocking Moonves and his wife. In June 2006, Stern announced that the lawsuit had been settled. As part of the settlement, Sirius acquired the exclusive rights to all of the WXRK tapes (over two decades' worth of shows) for $2 million.
Moonves has been on the board of ZeniMax Media since its foundation in 1999, alongside his friend and ZeniMax president Ernest Del. Moonves's personal investment in the company has been noted, as well as his appearances at several launch parties, including for Bethesda Softworks' Fallout 3, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and Rage.
Sexual misconduct allegations
Moonves voiced support for the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment in the workplace, even describing it as a "watershed moment" during a November 2017 press conference, and was a founding member of the "Commission on Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace", formed in late 2017 to "tackle the broad culture of abuse and power disparity". In January 2018, CBS Cares released public service announcements concerning how to combat sexual harassment.
In July 2018, The New Yorker published an article by Ronan Farrow saying that six women accuse Moonves of harassment and intimidation, and dozens have described abuse at CBS. Moonves was subsequently placed under investigation by the CBS board.
In August 2018, Bucknell University removed references to Moonves on its website, and University of Southern California suspended Moonves' name from its Media Center.
In September 2018, The New Yorker reported that six more women (in addition to the six original women reported in July) had raised accusations against Moonves, going back to the 1980s. Shortly after resigning as CEO of CBS, Moonves released a statement denying all of the sexual misconduct allegations.
In November 2018, The New York Times published an article in which actress Bobbie Phillips alleges that Moonves sexually assaulted her during the mid-1990s, and was attempting to bury the allegations. The next month, it was revealed Moonves had been involved in paying a $9.5 million settlement to actress Eliza Dushku, who claimed she was written out of her starring role on CBS drama Bull as retaliation for reporting sexual harassment by co-star Michael Weatherly; actress Cybill Shepherd alleged in a radio interview that Moonves cancelled her sitcom, Cybill, after she rejected his advances.
On December 18, 2018, CBS announced that the board would deny Moonves his $120 million severance pay, as their investigation had found Moonves violated his contract. According to investigators, claims made by the women were credible, and led to more claims that were found to be credible during the course of the investigation. In addition, it was claimed that Moonves attempted to interfere with the investigation. Allegations of examples include Moonves refusing to cooperate with investigators, acting "evasive and untruthful" towards investigators, deleting hundreds of messages, and passing off his son's iPad as his own to investigators.
On June 21, 2019, advice columnist E. Jean Carroll wrote in a first-person essay in New York that Moonves sexually assaulted her in an elevator in the mid-1990s after she interviewed him for a story. Moonves denied the allegation.
On April 7, 2003, Moonves portrayed himself in an episode of The Practice. From early 2004 until its end in May 2015, Moonves made regular appearances on the Late Show with David Letterman. One of these came when Letterman declared outrage that CBS featured his late-night competitor Jay Leno in an ad for CBS's telecast of the People's Choice Awards. Letterman jokingly warned the "CBS stooge in the control room" to call his buddies "before things turn ugly"; Moonves obliged. Later appearances took the same format, with Letterman discussing current events and the CBS network with the company's CEO.
On the March 23, 2015, premiere episode of The Late Late Show with James Corden, Moonves portrayed himself as the head of CBS who sends out a golden ticket granting whoever finds it a chance to host The Late Late Show, in an homage to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Moonves also appeared on the September 8, 2015, premiere of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, operating a large switch he could use to switch back to reruns of The Mentalist if he was unhappy with the new program.
Moonves is a great-nephew of Paula Ben-Gurion, born Paula Munweis, wife of David Ben-Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel. He practices Transcendental Meditation, and has said, "It puts me in a calm state, which I'm not always in."
In 1978, Moonves married Nancy Wiesenfeld, with whom he has three children including W magazine style director Sara Moonves. In April 2003, Nancy Moonves filed for divorce in Los Angeles Superior Court, citing irreconcilable differences. Nancy and Les Moonves were already living apart.
In 2004, although his divorce from Nancy was not yet finalized, Moonves began dating Julie Chen, CBS' The Early Show reporter and host of the reality series Big Brother. On December 10, 2004, Moonves got a court to grant an early divorce, on a motion citing a "desire to return to the status of being single". Thirteen days later in Mexico, he married Chen. In 2009, Chen gave birth to a son.
In 2015, Moonves and Chen made a major donation to University of Southern California, resulting in a media center being named the "Julie Chen/Leslie Moonves and CBS Media Center." Moonves was already a USC School of Cinematic Arts' board of councilors member. Previously Moonves was a University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism board member.
In August 2018, Moonves was "suspended" from the USC School of Cinematic Arts' board of councilors in the wake of sex abuse allegations.
In September 2018, at the same time Moonves resigned, CBS announced that Moonves and the network would be donating $20 million to #MeToo-related organizations.