NEW YORK — CBS revealed Monday that it set aside $120 million in severance for ousted chief executive Leslie Moonves. But whether he sees a penny of it is one of the tough and potentially incendiary decisions the network faces after his resignation over sexual misconduct accusations.
Despite Moonves’ announced exit Sunday, outside lawyers hired by CBS continue to investigate allegations against him and Jeff Fager, the top executive at ‘‘60 Minutes.’’ In a regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, CBS said it will release the severance money if the investigation finds there was no cause for him to be fired.
Any payment to Moonves is likely to anger the #MeToo movement that has brought down other powerful men in Hollywood and the media, including Hollywood studio boss Harvey Weinstein, NBC’s Matt Lauer, and CBS’ Charlie Rose.
Meanwhile, Moonves’ wife, Julie Chen, did not appear Monday on the season-opening episode of her daytime show, ‘‘The Talk,’’ and cohost Sharon Osbourne said on the air that ‘‘everyone here at CBS is nervous about their jobs.’’ CBS’s stock price slid.
As head of television’s most popular network, Moonves was among the most powerful and richest executives in the TV industry, making nearly $140 million over the last two years.
His exit was announced hours after The New Yorker posted a detailed story alleging misconduct. In two stories posted this summer, a total of 12 women have said they were mistreated by the TV mogul, including forced oral sex, groping, and retaliation if they resisted. Moonves has denied the charges, though he said he had consensual relations with some of the women.
Even before the latest New Yorker article came out, Moonves was already facing pressure to leave. His departure was brokered as part of broader talks with CBS’ parent company, Norwood-based National Amusements, over the network’s future. Under settlement terms with CBS, National Amusements chief Shari Redstone conceded not to push for combining CBS with sibling company Viacom for at least two years, a merger that Moonves had opposed. National Amusements also agreed to a board shake-up that increased the power of independent directors.
The network’s chief operating officer, Joseph Ianniello, is taking over as president and CEO until a reshaped board of directors can find a permanent replacement, CBS said. David Nevins, chief executive at CBS’ Showtime network, was said to be a leading candidate.
For now, Ianniello is unlikely to make drastic changes in programming, particularly since CBS’ formula has been working. Programming changes could be more substantial if CBS chooses someone outside the company as a permanent replacement.
B. Riley FBR analyst Barton Crockett said CBS could remain successful without Moonves. He noted the continued success of other networks that have lost top executives to sexual misconduct claims, including Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly at Fox News and Matt Lauer at NBC News.
A broader question is whether CBS will remain a standalone company at all.
To better compete with tech companies such as Netflix, companies that have traditionally distributed TV shows and movies have been buying the producers of such programs. The producers, themselves, have been consolidating as well. AT&T bought Time Warner for $85 billion in June, while Disney is in the process of acquiring the entertainment assets of Fox for $71.3 billion.
That makes CBS a hot commodity. With the shake-up of its board, there are 11 independent directors and two affiliated with National Amusements, down from three. One of the new directors, Candace Beinecke, is a lawyer with expertise in mergers and acquisitions. National Amusements agreed to give ‘‘good faith consideration’’ to any offer the new board deems good for shareholders.
Crockett said possible suitors include AT&T ‘‘doubling down’’ and attempting to buy CBS to complement its recent Time Warner acquisition. Or Verizon, which was rumored to be a suitor in the past, could make an offer as a way to ‘‘deepen its content presence and close a content gap with AT&T,’’ he said.
Offers from Amazon, Apple, or Google might be possible as well, if those companies wanted to expand their sports offerings and ‘‘vault into a leadership position in production of top tier TV content,’’ Crockett said.
BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield said CBS might even entertain a merger with Viacom now that chief opponent Moonves is out. Even though National Amusements agreed not to push for it, that doesn’t preclude CBS itself from doing so. If other offers do not materialize, Greenfield said a combination with Viacom might be necessary as size and scale are ‘‘becoming increasingly critical in the media industry.’’
On Monday’s ‘‘The Talk,’’ Osbourne said Chen was taking time off to be with her family. Chen, who is also host of the CBS prime-time show ‘‘Big Brother,’’ has been married to Moonves since 2004.
‘‘He’s not been convicted of any crime, but obviously the man has a problem,’’ Osbourne said.
Osbourne said she was particularly taken by the story of Phyllis Golden-Gottlieb, who told The New Yorker that Moonves pushed her head into his lap and forced her to perform oral sex when they both worked at the production company Lorimar in the late 1980s. Golden-Gottlieb said Moonves ‘‘ruined my career’’ when she resisted further advances; Moonves strongly denied hurting the careers of any women.
The New Yorker also reported Sunday that a former intern at ‘‘60 Minutes’’ three decades ago, Sarah Johansen, said that Fager groped her at a party. Fager is the gatekeeper for the most influential news show on television, and only the second executive producer it has ever had.
Earlier this summer, six former employees told the magazine that Fager had touched employees in ways that made them uncomfortable. Some women said Fager tolerated a workplace where men were protected.
Fager told the magazine that he had encouraged staff to talk to the lawyers investigating ‘‘60 Minutes,’’ and added: ‘‘I believe that a fair and open investigation will determine ‘60 Minutes’ is a good place where talented women and men thrive and produce some of the finest broadcast journalism in America.’’