CBS reportedly negotiating exit for CEO Les Moonves

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Les Moonves’ time at CBS appears to be coming to an end.

CNBC, citing anonymous sources, reported Thursday that the CBS board is in talks with the chief executive that would result in his leaving the company.

Moonves has also told some confidants about the exit talks, a friend who spoke with him about it told CNN. Moonves did not respond to a request for comment.

The developments come about a month after a bombshell report in The New Yorker detailed allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct against the longtime CEO. The CBS board has also hired outside counsel to investigate those claims.

Moonves has been keeping a relatively low profile, inside and outside CBS, during the board’s investigation. But he was seen at Senator John McCain’s funeral service in Washington last Saturday.

His potential exit from CBS has been whispered about in media circles for the past several weeks.

The Los Angeles Times reported on Wednesday that CBS board members were talking about his potential exit. Discussions have focused on the size of a severance package that could exceed $200 million, and on whether Moonves would move to a producer role, the Times reported.

The Times reported that the departure talks are tied to a larger dispute over control of CBS. Moonves and his company have been locked in an ugly legal battle for months with Shari Redstone, who has a controlling stake in CBS that Moonves is trying to challenge.

Redstone tried to bring CBS and its corporate cousin, Viacom, back together as one company earlier this year. But Moonves and CBS resisted the idea in part because Redstone wanted her favored executive, Viacom CEO Bob Bakish, to take a prominent position at the new company. Moonves wanted his own team.

CBS took Redstone and her family’s holding company, National Amusements, Inc., to court in May over the spat. A trial date was set for next month.

Now, though, it looks as though Redstone is about to win the fight.

CNBC’s report suggested that Moonves’ team could get a consolation prize if a settlement is reached. The network reported that Joe Ianniello, who is now COO of CBS, could replace Moonves as interim CEO.

Ianniello has widely been seen as the top choice to succeed Moonves already. When talks to merge CBS with Viacom were on the table earlier this year, Team Moonves pushed for Ianniello to be No. 2.

Wall Street analysts prefer Ianniello, too. In the days after the Moonves allegations first came out, Doug Doug Creutz, a senior research analyst at Cowen, called the Ianniello choice the “least bad solution” to the Moonves problem.

CBS stock was up about 1% in early trading Thursday.

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