I don't know about you, but I'm more than a little nervous about today's announcement that Mel Karmazin is leaving Viacom and being replaced by two-headed monster Tom Freston and Les Moonves. I can only hope that Freston is there to counterbalance the former-actor Moonves, but as evidenced whenever he makes public appearances, Les is still keen on grabbing the spotlight (and the headlines).
Sumner Redstone and Karmazin have been fighting almost since the day Sumner's Viacom gobbled up Mel's CBS and Infinity. However these things happen, Les has obviously become a favorite son as his continued ascent on the Viacom corporate ladder has been relatively swift. He's the only network head to actually oversee TWO networks. Granted, one is UPN so that shouldn't count, but he's still the big boss. And now, along with seemingly polar opposite Freston (sure you read his name in the trades from time-to-time, but programming head Brian Graden is the man who gets most of the MTV press ... and credit), he's going to oversee everything.
I assume that Redstone is actually trying to mimic the Time Warner corporate structure where Dick Parsons put former HBO head Jeff Bewkes in charge of "entertainment and networks" (movies, television, cable channels) and Don Logan in charge of "media and communications" (magazines, publishing, online, cable service). Maybe Sumner plans to split Freston's and Moonves's duties in a similar manner, but how? They both come out of television. Who's going to oversee the movies and radio operations. Does Freston's being a part of the cable networks give him responsibility for Showtime, even though MTV Networks and Showtime Networks are separate subsidiaries?
I'm sure all of this will be delineated soon, but there are several reasons I care.
For example, Moonves is the reason the god-awful TV movie The Reagans didn't air as it was supposed to on CBS. The film went to Showtime -- would it now? It doesn't matter that it sucked, and he had every right to kill it before it was produced. But in reality, he succumbed to pressure from conservative watchdog groups who took offense at the film's portrayal of their modern-day hero.
Whether or not Moonves himself is a conservative Republican is unimportant; he obviously has the right to believe and vote as he wishes. As the head of a broadcast network, however, he shouldn't be discriminating against advertising he disagrees with and trying to pretend that it's because his network doesn't air anything issue-oriented. Especially when his corporate cousins in the radio division air plenty of issue-oriented programs, such as shows hosted by Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. Broadcast those shows, but don't try to pretend you're staying out of the arena by blocking something such as MoveOn.org's paid advertisement from airing during CBS's broadcast of the Super Bowl.
Also, I think Howard Stern's consistent predictions that he'll be fired before the end of his contract may come true. Stern survived all these years with Infinity Broadcasting because the company backed him from the very top -- from Karmazin. On the other hand, Stern has been hounding Moonves on the air for the past couple years. If I remember correctly, it dates back to the cancellation of his Saturday late-night show that was produced by CBS Productions and aired on many CBS affiliates but was not technically a CBS network show. I don't remember whether Stern claims he pulled-the-plug himself or whether CBS decided not to produce the show anymore, but whatever actually happened, Stern has been on Moonves's case ever since. More recently, Stern has been making comments about Redstone and his daughter's involvement in the company. Are Sum or Les going to stand-up to the FCC to protect one of their most valuable money-making radio assets? I sincerely doubt it. And it shouldn't matter whether you like Stern or not, or listen to him or not. Of course Infinity has the option to fire him or not renew his contract when it ends next year. But I certainly don't want our government (who thinks it should have the right to tell a woman what she can and can't do with her body), in this case represented by five unelected officials, telling Infinity what it is allowed to broadcast or telling me what I am allowed to listen to.
Breathe ... breathe ... breathe ... Sorry, I sometimes get a bit riled up. Who knows what will happen at Paramount/Infinity/CBS/UPN/MTV/Showtime/Sundance Channel/VH-1/Spike TV/Comedy Central/TV Land/Nickelodon/CMT/BET/Blockbuster Video/Simon & Schuster/The Movie Channel/King World/ ... you get the idea.