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How George Cheeks Helps CBS Rid Itself of Les Moonves’ Shadow

Ianniello did yeoman’s work after Moonves’ ugly exit, but new boss offers a fresh face for ViacomCBS

To finally free itself of Les Moonves’ shadow, ViacomCBS needed to bring in some fresh blood. And in George Cheeks, who was named CEO of CBS on Friday, they found it in Viacom’s past.

A year and a half after Moonves was forced to resign from CBS, which he led for the better part of two decades, Cheeks offers CBS a chance to completely distance itself from its former CEO and the cultural problems that persisted during, and after, his reign. “NCIS: New Orleans” showrunner Brad Kern was fired by CBS TV Studios shortly after Ianniello took over, following a third misconduct investigation; a few months later, executive producer Adam Targum was also let go after an HR complaint and investigation.

While Ianniello did well in a tough spot, having to navigate the company through a messy departure of its CEO and an upcoming corporate merger, his proximity to Moonves was likely too much to overcome for him to be anything more than a band-aid.

When he took over from Moonves in the fall of 2018, analysts told TheWrap at that time that his close ties to the former CEO could limit his long-term prospects with CBS. After all, before Moonves was forced to resign after multiple sexual misconduct accusations were levied against him, he had been grooming Ianniello to be eventually successor. “Everything suggests to me that he is a placeholder,” CFRA analyst Tuna Amobi told TheWrap.

At the same time, Shari Redstone had plans of her own: To undo what her father, Sumner, did when he split up Viacom and CBS in 2006. It was not exactly a secret that Viacom CEO Bob Bakish was her choice to lead the combined company. And last August, that’s exactly what happened: Bakish was named CEO while Ianniello was put in charge of CBS assets.

But Ianniello was never a Bakish guy. Once it became clear that Viacom and CBS would again become one company, the handwriting was pretty much on the wall for Ianniello. His contract was extended through 2021, but that was only to help ensure a smooth transition while the two companies integrated.

Cheeks, meanwhile, has some experience in running a broadcast network. After Bob Greenblatt stepped down as NBC Entertainment chairman last year, Cheeks was part of a two-man team with Paul Telegedy in running NBC. He was eventually moved back over the studio division under Bonnie Hammer, which could have been viewed as a bit of a demotion. He abruptly resigned from NBCU and TheWrap reported he was in serious talks to replace Ianniello atop CBS.

Before his time with NBC, Cheeks was an executive vice president of business affairs and general counsel for the Viacom Music and Entertainment Group. Simultaneously, he was the head of standards and practices for Viacom Media.

Cheeks will succeed Ianniello in March, who will get a $70 million golden parachute as part of an earlier clause in his contract with CBS, which entitled him to that amount if he wasn’t named the permanent CEO.