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The Steady Rise and Sudden Fall of Leslie Moonves

Category: Business,Finance

At the peak of his success, he carried himself as a living caricature of the larger-than-life Hollywood executive, often prone to issuing sweeping pronouncements. “Americans do not like dark,” he told The Times in 2005. “I understand why creative people like dark, but American audiences don’t like dark.” And his lineups reflected his traditionalist’s notion of what audiences wanted, with Mr. Moonves seeing to it that even the shows centered on grisly murders were not too dark.

“The morgue on ‘C.S.I.: Miami’ looks like a restaurant,” he said. “It may be an odd thing to say, but it looks like a fun place to be.”

And, yes, the easily identifiable good guys on his shows were usually guys. Until recently, CBS was besieged with accusations of having predominantly white leading cast members in its prime time shows, lagging competitors in an industry with a dismal track record concerning diversity.

While excelling as a network programmer, Mr. Moonves survived a series of changes at Black Rock, as the network’s Manhattan headquarters are known. Through it all, he has kept up a tradition at CBS, which was built in the mid-20th century by the similarly domineering William S. Paley. When Mr. Moonves’s subordinates told of how they went about making key decisions, they said things like, “I only have to please one man.”

Mr. Moonves’s last big public moment before his downfall occurred in May at Carnegie Hall, for the annual event known as the upfronts. He took the stage to promote the fall lineup before an audience made up primarily of advertisers. He seemed in his element, although everyone in the crowd knew he was locked in a legal battle with Shari Redstone, the controlling shareholder of the CBS Corporation and the president of its parent company, National Amusements.

The corporate tensions had only raised the dramatic stakes, however, and Mr. Moonves reveled in a prolonged ovation from the 2,000 people in the seats. After working the crowd briefly, he said: “This is the story of the true survivor in this crazy media business we love: broadcasting. The big tent.”

What he did not know was that the tent was not big enough, in the age of the #MeToo movement, which has given a voice to women who had long been silent, to keep him inside much longer.

On Monday, the nearly 13,000 employees of the CBS Corporation had a new boss: Joseph Ianniello, a company veteran who was named acting chief executive on Sunday.

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