Dark Side of the Moonves

This is a preview of today’s edition of The Ankler, the entertainment industry’s most feared newsletter. 

A lot to unpack in the news of recent weeks, since The Ankler lit out for the fjords.

A year ago, if you had to name the most successful MVP Executives of movies and TV, the people who had brought the most billions in value to their respective companies, you could’ve made a credible case for John Lasseter and Les Moonves as the two obvious picks. Cert,ainly they’d each be in the running for the prizes.

So we can’t say The Reckoning is just flesh wounds anymore.

This may not be the most the most significant angle, but a very interesting one for me is the insight the Moonves revelations give into just how much has changed in the past year. Outwardly, things have changed completely. Executive class bad behavior–of all sorts–is being punished for the first time in Hollywood history. Not a week goes by without some high to mid-level dismissal. All this was unheard of a year ago.

But l’affair Moonves is even more interesting in the insight it gives into how much has changed inside the minds of the ruling class, the people who presided over a hundred years of turpitude.

Let’s look at it this way: Lots of people knew this New Yorker story was coming for a long time. Little ol’ me deep in the bowels of the Anklebrinth heard about it released months ago.

So if lots of people knew it was coming, presumably one of them was Leslie Moonves, not to mention the entire top ranks of CBS and Viacom.

Leslie Moonves knew, post-Harvey, that Ronan Farrow and the New Yorker were digging around into his past. Presumably, he also knew what his own past contained and some of the things they might stumble upon while strolling down that path.

Months ago, when he first heard this was in the works but before it was public knowledge, Moonves could’ve announced he was leaving CBS, and no one would’ve thought a thing of it. If he had said, “Shari Redstone is on a mission to destroy this company and I’m not going to stay here and help her undo all the great work we’ve done,” everyone would’ve replied: About time! I can’t believe he put up with it this long!

He would’ve walked out the door with his reputation intact as Network TV’s last great leader, and with a couple hundred million dollar payout to keep him warm. He would’ve lived to TV executive another day, or maybe gone on to become Commissioner of the NFL, a job he was angling for not long ago as the Ankler has previously WORLD EXCLUSIVELY reported. Given the state of his doomed battle with Redstone, walking away is what he should’ve done, on its own merits.

Had he stepped aside when the New Yorker started on the case, he likely would’ve short-circuited the investigation. With the number of potential stories they have in the queue, what’s the likelihood that they would’ve financed Farrow + team for a half a year to dig up dirt about some guy who used to work in television? While there are still plenty of live targets still at the helm?

But he didn’t do that. Instead, he opted to engage in a doomed fight with Shari Redstone and risk eternal ignominy and now certain ouster (minus Golden Parachute), after this winds its way through whatever legal/HR hell it has to go through,  and then a very uncertain future to follow.

So what kind of person would make that choice?

If ever there was a laboratory to build up entitlement, Hollywood circa 1914-2017 was it. Put a few people at the helm of the most sought-after, glamorous business on Earth, and insulate them with a lapdog trade media, vast resources to bury misdeeds and an endless line of human chattel willing to abet, enable, serve as flunkies, take the hush money when need be.

And then let a tiny cadre representing the most narcissistic generation in human history sit atop that business for 30 years and counting. Wrap all that up, and how could any of these people ever believe that they could ever be criticized for anything? Ever. No matter what.   Watch Moonves talking about the new environment and tell me that in any part of his brain there was any connection made between what happened to Harvey and his own behavior.

For the rest of us, The Reckoning has been an earthquake. But clearly for Les Moonves, despite all on his ledger, it was just someone else’s problem.

This is some world-class expensive hubris.

That this kind of self-insulating self-regard could survive the nuclear blast of the past year is impressive, and it also says some pretty terrifying things about the cozy little circle we’re counting on to lead us through the hellfires of the battle for the future of entertainment.

Even after Harvey – even today! – it’s still not an open and shut question that a CEO who uses his position and corporate office to attack actresses and others in business with his company has to go.  Can you imagine if, say, the Junior VP of Data Management were caught having done this once?  He’d be off the lot in seconds. But if a titan of Hollywood does it…well, then we have to pause and consider the implications here, launch a thorough investigation, select outside counsel…

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ALSO IN TODAY’S EDITION!

  • WHAT CLIFF IS THIS TAKING US OVER!
  • BEEN THERE, GUNN THAT!
  • DISNEY DEBACLES POWER RANKINGS!
  • THE WAY A HOLLYWOOD EMPIRE DIES! 

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