Nepo Baby, Hurry Up The Chimney Tonight

At least in the world we knew before COVID and entitlement forever changed the concept of an office holiday party, this used to be a week when teams would celebrate on someone else’s dime the accomplishments of a year soon to end, the relief that they made it through healthy, and the anticipation of spending a deserved extended break with, as many would put it, their “other” family.

I attended several such parties as a guest of someone connected with CBS entities, and it was exceptionally clear that the “Tiffany” network monicker it had spread to more than simply the perceived quality of its content.  The food was great, the alcohol potent and, most of all, the camaraderie was excellent.

But, of course, that was long before CBS came under the purview of Shari Redstone.

I honestly don’t know if they even had a holiday party, or even a team lunch; the overwhelming majority of anyone I knew who was in their employ have, as they say,
“moved on to other opportunities”.  The latest wave of such moves were announced by multiple friends of mine on social media, including one particularly jarring one from someone who was, in their words, dismissed this week abruptly and without ceremony.  Privately, this person confirmed that this move had apparently been dictated by corporate, and, in the process, had gutted an overwhelming majority of support people across other CBS divisions, effectively leaving the responsibility in the hands of an overwhelmed and relatively unseasoned leader who now has to shoulder the responsibilities of those departed just as year-end reporting is due.

Perhaps I’m a little biased and overly emotional, especially when my friend added on that, just days after getting let go, they threw a birthday party for their son.  What great timing.

Meanwhile, Shari Redstone has apparently been busy offering some Christmas gifts for so-called “tire kickers”, and this week, thanks to the help of dueling trade and business journal champions, the world learned about this and yes, there were immediate benefits for Shari’s Christmas (Chaunkah?) Club account.  Per Jon Kelly’s PUCK newsletter which dropped earlier this morning:

I was editing Bill Cohan’s brilliant fresh reporting on Jeff Zucker’s ambitions with RedBird IMI, his new roll-up fund. Zucker, as loyal Puck readers know, is embarking on a $1.4 billion, all-in conquest to buy The Telegraph and The Spectator. (Zucker and his partners are paying about $750 million for the assets—approximately 10x EBITDA—with the rest coming as an outside loan in a very clever deal architecture.)

Despite Zucker’s new identity as an investor, Bill mused at the end of the piece about whether he’d one day, again, find himself as an operator. Bill then posited, as he has before, that he’d be an excellent leader at Paramount Global, the fading Redstone family heirloom, should Shari Redstone eventually decide to sell.

This was lurking in the background on my weekly Wednesday Zoom with Matt Belloni and our various partners about his growing empire at Puck—his thriving What I’m Hearing newsletter, podcast The Town, and events business. (He was hosting a private event in L.A. the following night. These are busy days here at Puck…) On the Zoom, I asked Matt what he was working on for his Thursday night edition of the newsletter. He responded that he’d been tipped off that David Ellison was homing in on an acquisition attempt of Paramount. My eyes widened. This was huge news. Matt said he had to jump to pin down the reporting. I started to salivate in anticipation of his newsletter draft the following night.

Sure enough, by Thursday evening, Matt had gotten the goods. His piece, Shari Inches Toward Parting With Paramount, reported that Ellison was indeed kicking the tires on the media conglomerate—and, in a new wrinkle, he was working with RedBird C.E.O. Gerry Cardinale. (Could Bill’s prophecy have been right all along, a relic of his two decades as a dealmaker at GE Capital, Lazard, Merrill Lynch, and JPMorgan Chase?) In a sign of Matt’s influence, his newsletter was published at 10:02 p.m. on Thursday evening. Soon after the market opened the next day, Paramount’s stock was up more than 14 percent.

A FINANCIAL TIMES trio of reporters:  James Fontanella-Khan, Anna Nicolaou in New York and Christopher Grimes, amplified the logic behind Belloni’s scoop:

Paramount Global’s controlling shareholder has held talks about a sale of the legendary Hollywood studio and other assets to Skydance, the production company behind Top Gun: Maverick, according to people familiar with the company controlled by Shari Redstone.   Skydance was particularly interested in Paramount’s Hollywood studio, people familiar with the New York-based company said. But other assets, including TV networks such as CBS and its lossmaking streaming platform Paramount Plus, could be acquired and then sold to other potential buyers.

Arguably, the massive success of the decades-anticipated TOP GUN sequel has goosed whatever success has occurred on Shari’s watch.  Indeed, when 2022 results were being factored in, Wall Street speculated that she was in a better position to monetize the assets then.  But as CNBC’s Alex Sherman weighed in earlier this fall, Shari might have already overplayed her hand:

Shari Redstone may have missed her window.

Paramount Global’scontrolling shareholder is open to a merger or selling the company at the right price, according to people familiar with her thinking. And she has been open to it for several years…The problem has been finding the right deal for shareholders. Market conditions have made a transformative transaction difficult at best and highly unlikely at worst.

Instead, Shari has been spending the better part of 2023 and the back half of 2022, when the halo effect of MAVERICK was far brighter,  shuffling the deck chairs of her Titanic.  She has gutted the Showtime brand and seen the departure of most of its top management, shoveling the assets and responsibility onto an already challenged networks team which has all but punted their scripted series business and turned many of their channels into larger-scale FAST channels, devoting entire nights to blocks of reruns, many of which are wholly-owned.  On the CBS side, she championed the loss of numerous other experienced and successful executives, elevating apologist diversity hires to positions of increased responsibilities and, worst of all, has allowed CBS to de-emphasize its iconic “eye” since, in the opinion of those allowed to publicly comment on it, it was strategically not in line with the corporate rebrand that chose to emphasize Paramount.

Shari does come from a pedigree where a public-facing corporate brand was an afterthought.  When I was tasked with researching this phenomenon as FOX was overeagerly embracing putting the name on every single business from sports to kids, the Viacom approach where individual network brands had emerged as preferable and resonant was overwhelmingly championed by actual viewers from coast to coast.  And yep, you’d be right that they all knew and loved CBS, too.  When we probed for other Hollywood brands, Paramount was nowhere to be found.

So it’s almost understandable that she has, literally and figuratively, turned a blind eye to the special relationship the name CBS enjoys with its actual audience, and I would defy her or anyone in her camp to show any tangible evidence that any American east of downtown Los Angeles responds more favorably to a business with a Paramount name?  Paramount is an iconic Hollywood name and a famed and trusted brand outside of the U.S., where channels with its name are strong in numerous territories.  Longtime Redstone ally Bob Bakish has leveraged that brand for decades as the architect for its global businesses and helped the Redstone family make billions.  Empahsis on the family, becaue Bakish was an important part of the regime that SUMNER Redstone lead.    Sumner Redstone, who was building an empire at Viacom at the same time that Leslie Moonves was running CBS, and the news division that earned that Tiffany name was a respected and undisputed number one.

Which brings us back to how and why Shari Redstone may have felt it was more than her birthright to try and run the company, whatever its name may be, in the first place.

As last year’s best-selling book UNSCRIPTED which chronicled the last years of Sumner Redstone’s life documented, Shari clearly had daddy issues, especially in the wake of his misoygnistic behavior and the control which at least two of his mistresses/paramours attempted to exert on his affairs.  It was no secret that Sumner was a skirt-chaser, even after his hands ceased to work all that well, much in line with documented cases about Moonves and other CBS executives, including a few with CBS News.  The “me too” movement and aggressive lawyers seeking retribution allowed much of this to finally become public, and most of those who committed those sins were purged from the company.    Their behavior more than justified their departures.  But they also left a tremendous void in leadership skills and strategic acumen, for nothing that these men did in their personal lives undermines or diminishes their skill sets as savvy, informed executives,  a point that far too many who champion women’s empowerment gloss over.

Shari Redstone rode a wave of such support into her chairmanship of the company her dad and similarly flawed men built, and has demonstrated little skill, or even interest, in trying to learn from what they knew.

Instead, aside from occasional public statements such as her questioning Why Are So Many People With Power Silent’, as THE WRAP’s Drew Taylor reported earlier this week, she has been remarkably silent herself on anything that may be going on with potential buyers.

Whether or not the Ellison interest is real or not has sparked its own debate.  Almost predictably, THE ANKLER’s Richard Rushfield grabbed his own laptop and pooh-poohed PUCK:

(A)lmost none of the rumors of imminent acquisition pan out. Scratch that and make it: historically not one of these rumors has ever panned out. They generally haven’t made it anywhere near print since Nikki Finke slithered away, but the age of rumors cometh again.

Which isn’t to say that this one won’t be the first to pan out. Why not?

But generally, when you hear one of these rumors, you can mark the rumored thing down as something that definitely will not happen.

Because if it was going to happen, with billions on the line, that would be closely guarded in a very small circle who wouldn’t be gossiping about it to reporters claiming “exclusives” all at once.

Yep, there’s a couple more entitled men taking potshots.  Kinda gets under your skin, eh, Sharileh?

But probably no less than how your timing made some truly valued people feel.

You don’t get the right to lament about the silence of others the same week when you silently let people go just as Chaunkah’s starting.

I honestly do hope there’s a buyer out there somewhere, where it’s the Ellison camp or, as Rushfield seems to insist, a larger business partner like Netflix looming to swoop in.   If indeed a Jeff Zucker is part of any sort of RedBird involvement, so be it.  Again, what executives do in their private lives is their business.  What they can do for shareholders and legacy brands is ours.

Need we remind anyone of the legacy and demeanor of the diversity hire who you approved take over the helm of CBS News?  Such short memories we have.

Still, as we observed, yesterday, it’s the holidays.  And since Shari’s so determined to speak out on the behalf of all of her fellow Jews, this one will even wish HER a Chappy Chanukah.

But based upon how she’s treated my friends this week, I do hope her shamas might turn out to be one of the exploding kind.

Until next time…

 

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