Read: July 2023
Inspiration: Came across on Amazon’s bestseller list; interested to learn about the history of Viacom and CBS
Written with the help of ChatGPT, below is a brief summary to understand what is covered in the book.
“Unscripted”, published in 2023 by authors and journalists James Stewart and Rachel Abrams, is a gripping account of the tumultuous struggle for control over the vast media empire of Viacom and CBS. The book delves into the intricate power dynamics and personal feuds within the Redstone family, particularly between Sumner Redstone and his daughter, Shari. It offers a behind-the-scenes look at the high-stakes battles that unfolded in boardrooms and courtrooms as various stakeholders fought for dominance over the media conglomerate. The narrative also explores the larger implications of the Redstone family’s legacy on the media industry and corporate governance. “Unscripted” is an engrossing tale of ambition, betrayal, and the enduring impact of family dynamics on the fate of a media empire.
Direct from my original book log, below are my unedited notes (abbreviations and misspellings included) to show how I take notes as I read.
Sumner Redstone born 1923, family started National Amusements as small drive in theater chain, Sumner went to Harvard, ambitiously got into Nat’l Amusement and in 80s began buying stakes in several entertainment companies such as MGM, 20th C Fox, Warner and more, $40bn bid for CBS in 2000, net worth get up to $14bn early 2000s, famous temper and also got increasingly non-discreet with numerous relationships, Philippe Dauman was trusted confidant of Sumner—from being Shearman lawyer who helped him with hostile takeover of Viacom to acquisitions of Paramount and CBS, then Viacom CEO in 2006, Les Moonves was second confidant—struggling actor who got into production and Warner after his employer merged into it, huge successes as TV producer (“man with the golden gut”) who joined CBS in 1995 and continue success (Survivor, CSI, NCIS), Sumner let Moonves run CBS, Sumner and daughter Shari had complex relationships, wedges driven by affairs of Sumner as well as Dauman—all interested in wealth/inheritance/control, Shari was a lawyer but held 1/6 of NAI, Shari tried to keep distance (even pursued master’s in social work), 1994 shari divorced and Sumner push for her to get more involved at NAI and did very well leading NAI into multiplex theater upgrades, Shari named as successor as Chairman NAI in 2002 but not as CEO (though Shari increase involvement at Viacom), Shari and Sumner always had a contentious relationship and barely speak, but amplifief as nurses closest to Sumner manipulate him for money and turn him against Shari, nurses Sydney Holland and Manuela Herzer got millions/gifts from Sumner as constantly cast Shari as liar and incompetent, Sumner always feel mixed but as aged got increasingly sad/emotional, other nurses document constant verbal abuse and controlling nature of nurses over Sumner to guide his actions in their interests as he aged, 2015 Holland forced out after affair exposed so Herzer consolidate power and become increasingly manipulative, other nurses such as Octaviano struggle to stay silent, all the while Viacom stock struggling under Dauman control as cling to legacy business despite streaming shift, Sumner was obsessed with stock price (though Herzer removed live tickers at his home as aged), Herzer moved to inherit $50mm+ once Holland out, Oct 2015 other nurses revolt and reveal Herzer’s manipulations to Sumner which shocked him—he kicked her out, Shari came back in the picture soon after to reunite with her father after turmoil but hit pieces in NY Post and NYT come out on Sumner to reveal his bad state and sexual obsessions, early 2016 Sumner resign as chairman of the board of viacom (Moonves replace) as pressure mount given publicity of struggling mental state, Viacom continue to struggle and Dauman consider selling 49% stake in paramount to Chinese investor (Paramount was Sumner’s crown jewel—told shari to stop the sale), mid 2016 Shari and allies orchestrate ousting of Dauman (viacom continue to tank), and Shari regain control, Bob Bakish in as “interim” CEO and Shari look to remerge Viacom and CBS (tough b/c meant Sumner admit was a mistake), Bakish entering was refreshing, Dauman sued but settled with Redstone, Viacom and CBS merger flounder in early ’17 as shari receive pushback from old guard (CBS was doing much better than Viacom), Bakish become permanent CEO, Sumner step away to be chairman emeritus and Shari bring in new board allies, Oct 2017 Ronan Farrow release Weinstein article and soon get Moonves tips, 2018 Shari revive Viacom CBS combination which set up battle between her and Moonves, Moonves and team early in ’18 go a step further with “nuclear option” to dilute NAI control of company via special stock dividend—lead to lots of litigation, Shari align with Bakish, Moonves and CBS board against their moves, Moonves try to discredit constant media calls and Farrow build story, July 27 morning it broke and 5:38pm Farrow published full story—CBS stock fell 7%, story included 6 accounts (not Bobbie Phillips—who Moonves kept trying to appease with roles), CBS not fired Moonves immediately—say to investigate, Phillips saw piece and realized Moonves was buying her silence with roles, Shari furious as CBS board state full support for mgmt, more details come out about Moonves witholding info and Farrow keep digging, Moonves resign Sept ’18, lawsuits end so Shari keep control but agree to wait 2 years for merger, Ianiello interim CBS chief and Moonves kept $70mm windfall, then Farrow report 6 more victims and lawyers continue to see Moonves’ lying (many CBS employees accuse), got $0 payout after that story went public as well as Bobbie Phillips (though $120mm was set aside previously), pervasive in culture at CBS—many aware, CBS and Viacom then merge Dec 2019 with Bakish at the helm and Shari got her win