As Legal Battle Looms, CBS CEO Leslie Moonves a No-Show at Pre-Upfront Event


As Legal Battle Looms, CBS CEO Leslie Moonves a No-Show at Pre-Upfront Event
As Legal Battle Looms, CBS CEO Leslie Moonves a No-Show at Pre-Upfront Event

This was the first time since 1996 that he's missed the breakfast at the company's Black Rock headquarters.

"Lox with Les" — the annual pre-upfront press breakfast hosted by CBS Corp. chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves at the company’s Black Rock, N.Y., headquarters — has been an upfront tradition since Moonves has been running CBS. But with CBS and Shari Redstone's National Amusements, Inc. due to face off in a Delaware court at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Moonves was a no-show for the first time since 1996.

The legal gambit launched by CBS on Monday seeks to block the Redstone family — the controlling shareholder of CBS and Viacom — from altering the composition of the CBS board and give CBS the right to issue a stock dividend to shareholders that would dilute NAI's voting power. The goal for Moonves is to fend off another merger with NAI-controlled Viacom. (The two companies split in 2006.)

CBS Entertainment chief Kelly Kahl delived Moonves' regrets: "Les always enjoys this event. But when the number of questions he could answer outweighed the number he could not answer, he thought it was a good idea to sit this one out."

It’s unclear which way the court will rule; CBS stock was up slightly Tuesday, while Viacom's was down slightly. But as Bernstein & Co. analyst Todd Juenger wrote May 15: “The probability of a CBS-Viacom re-merger is close to zero, for many years to come.”

If the court rules against CBS, Moonves would likely have little choice but to exit the company — or be fired.

The legal maneuvering — which is seen as an especially audacious bit of brinksmanship by Moonves — is unfolding less than 48 hours before Moonves and his team are scheduled to present their 2018-19 programming schedule and strategy to Madison Avenue media buyers at Carnegie Hall. Executives use the breakfast to unveil their new fall schedule to the media. And Moonves — a champion glad-hander and formidable corporate strategist — clearly reveled in opening up the annual, intimate confab. This year's invitation promised "gold medal buffet" and "platinum conversation."

Sources say Moonves, broadcast TV's biggest cheerleader,  will be on the stage of Carnegie Hall, where he serves as the de-facto master of ceremonies. 

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