NEW YORK - U.S. television giant CBS announced Sunday the immediate departure of CEO Leslie Moonves, one of the biggest scalps in the #MeToo era, following a slew of escalating sexual misconduct allegations.
Moonves, who orchestrated CBS’s revival into a ratings winner, had been one of the most respected executives in Hollywood until he was accused in late July of inappropriate behavior stretching back decades.
Two articles published by The New Yorker magazine — on the same day that his departure was announced and on July 27 — detailed allegations from 12 different women against the 68-year-old television titan.
Just hours later, CBS announced that Moonves would depart as chairman, president and CEO “effective immediately,” and that he and the network would donate $20 million to supporting the #MeToo movement and equality for women in the workplace.
His interim replacement will be chief operating officer Joseph Ianniello while the board searches for a permanent successor.
“The donation, which will be made immediately, has been deducted from any severance benefits that may be due Moonves,” CBS said.
An investigation being conducted by outside law firms into the allegations against Moonves is ongoing, the network said.
“Moonves will not receive any severance benefits at this time (other than certain fully accrued and vested compensation and benefits); any payments to be made in the future will depend upon the results of the independent investigation and subsequent board evaluation,” it added.
Moonves’s departure had been on the cards, with U.S. media reporting in recent days that the terms of his departure had been under negotiation for weeks, and a deal had been expected before markets open Monday.
Reports had said his severance payment could range from $100 million in stock to $180 million stipulated in his contract, or even that he could leave with no bonus, pending the results of the investigation.
One of his accusers, Jessica Pallingston, told the Pulitzer-winning journalist Ronan Farrow, who broke the allegations against Moonves in The New Yorker, that such a payoff would be “completely disgusting.”
Farrow’s follow-up article on Sunday contained allegations from six more women, who said Moonves harassed or assaulted them between 1980 and the early 2000s.
Farrow, whose reporting about Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein helped spark the #MeToo movement, quotes them as saying that Moonves forced them, at times violently, to perform oral sex on him, or that he exposed himself to them.
The company also announced that it had ended a lawsuit pitting network heads against the Redstone family, whose members control an 80 percent voting stake in CBS.
The Redstones, who had wanted to merge CBS with the Viacom group — which they also control — sued CBS, saying the network had attempted to dilute their voting rights to a 20 percent share.
Moonves joined CBS in 1995 from Warner Bros. Television, where his team developed hit shows such as “Friends” and “ER.”
He was promoted to president and CEO of CBS Television in 1998, and became chairman in 2003. A one-time actor, his wife is the host of “Big Brother” on CBS.