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Shakeups At Viacom May Affect CBS

By Michelle
June 3, 2004 - 7:59 PM

Despite his new job as Viacom's co-Chief Operating Officer, Leslie Moonves will not be abandoning CBS, but media insiders have expressed concern with changes that may affect the corporation's television networks.

Reuters (via Yahoo!) reported on Moonves' assurance that he would retain a hands-on approach to the network, which he is widely credited for making successful in the competition for ratings.

"I know there's a lot on my plate now, but let me repeat: CBS will always be the jewel in my crown," Moonves promised affiliates at CBS's annual meeting, where he remains chairman and CEO. Now that Moonves and MTV Networks chairman Tom Freston will share the titles of president and chief operating officer of Viacom, Inc. after the resignation on Tuesday of Mel Karmazin, Moonves will take over Paramount Television and Viacom's struggling radio division.

In a Washington Post article on the changes at Viacom, TV analyst Lisa de Moraes saw ominous implications in the naming of co-COOs of Viacom.

"Taking a page from the WWE Smackdown! school of corporate management, Sumner Redstone, the 81-year-old chairman and CEO of Viacom, yesterday announced that the boss of Viacom's MTV Networks and the head of Viacom-owned CBS and UPN will duke it out to see who gets to replace him when he steps down in three years," she wrote.

De Moraes noted that by naming two television executives rather than a film executive to the senior positions of media giant Viacom, Redstone reflected the fact that Moonves and Freston oversee units "that collectively represent more than 70 percent of Viacom's cash flow" and that Freston will be expected to overhaul underperforming cable network Showtime while Moonves works on keeping CBS at the top, bolstering UPN and building ties between the networks and Paramount Television.

Moonves said that he planned to coordinate cooperation between Viacom's networks and Paramount TV, hoping to send shows by top writers and producers at Paramount to CBS and UPN. "For the upcoming season...Paramount TV sold four new series to the six broadcast networks, trailing Warner Bros. TV, 20th Century Fox TV, Disney-owned Touchstone TV, NBC/Universal TV and even CBS Productions," observed de Moraes.

Media Life Magazine reported that investors worry Sumner may meddle with CBS now that Karmazin does not stand between the Viacom CEO and the head of CBS. "Moonves' biggest challenge, as he takes on additional responsibilities, will be to keep CBS free of the sort of interference that has hurt both ABC and NBC over the years, when corporate chieftains stooped to impose their programming savvy--or more often their lack of--on the creative minds responsible for coming up with new shows," noted the industry publication.

"There's no telling what Redstone will do now that his path to total control has been cleared. He's unpredictable, irascible and used to getting his way. And that alone opens up all sorts of possibilities for interference in the running of CBS," wrote Toni Feingold.

To further complicate matters, Reuters has reported (again via Yahoo!) that Viacom Entertainment Group chairman Jonathan Dolgen has announced that he is leaving his post as well this month. Dolgen oversaw Paramount Pictures, Paramount TV and publisher Simon & Schuster.

"Due to the recently announced changes in Viacom's management structure, the time was right for me to step aside," Dolgen said. Reuters noted that under the new hierarchy with Freston and Moonves, Dolgen's position would have been significantly curtailed. His departure had been anticipated following Karmazin's decision to resign.

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