Leslie Roy Moonves (/ˈmuːnvɛz/; born October 6, 1949) is Chairman of the Board, President, and Chief Executive Officer of CBS Corporation. Moonves served as Co-President and Co-Chief Operating Officer of Viacom, Inc., the predecessor to CBS Corporation, from 2004 until the company split on December 31, 2005. Prior to that time, he had been in a series of executive positions for CBS since July 1995. Moonves has been a Director at ZeniMax Media since 1999. Moonves became Chairman of CBS in February 2016.
Moonves was born in the United States, and he is Jewish. He is the son of Josephine (Schleifer) and Herman Moonves, and grew up in Valley Stream, New York. He attended Valley Stream Central High School and went to Bucknell University, graduating in 1971. In his sophomore year he switched his major from pre-med to Spanish and acted in a few plays; following graduation in 1971 he moved to Manhattan to pursue a career as an actor, but after he played a few "forgettable" TV roles he decided to pursue the business side of television instead.
Moonves had upper management experience early in his business career. He was in charge of first-run syndication and pay/cable programming at 20th Century Fox Television. Also at 20th Century Fox Television he was vice president of movies and mini-series. Other positions included vice president of Development at Saul Ilson Productions (in association with Columbia Pictures Television) and development executive for Catalina Productions.
Lorimar Television and Warner Bros. Television
Moonves joined Lorimar Television in 1985 as executive in charge of its movies and mini-series, and in 1988, became head of creative affairs. From 1990 to 1993, he was president at Lorimar. In July 1993, he became president/CEO of Warner Bros. Television, when Warner Bros. and Lorimar Television combined operations. In this phase of his career, he green-lighted the hit shows Friends and ER, among many others.
He joined CBS in July 1995 as president of CBS Entertainment. From April 1998 until 2003, he was president and chief executive officer at CBS Television, then was promoted to chairman and CEO of CBS in 2003. He oversees all operations of the company, including the CBS Television Network, The CW (a joint venture between CBS Corporation and Warner Bros. Entertainment), CBS Television Stations, CBS Television Studios, CBS Television Distribution, Showtime, CBS Radio, CBS Records, CBS Outdoor, Simon & Schuster, CBS Interactive, CBS Consumer Products, CBS Home Entertainment, CBS Outernet and CBS Films. During this time (2003), CBS became America's most watched television network, going from last to first.
Among the shows that have given CBS a new lease on life is the CSI franchise and Survivor. CBS had six of the ten most-watched primetime shows in the final quarter of 2005: CSI, Without a Trace, CSI: Miami, Survivor: Guatemala, NCIS, and Cold Case.
In February 2005, Moonves was identified as the executive directly responsible for ordering the cancellation of UPN's Star Trek: Enterprise and the ending of the 18-year Star Trek television franchise.
In January 2006, Moonves was instrumental in making the deal that brought together CBS-owned UPN with The WB to form the CW Network.
On February 28, 2006, Moonves led CBS to file a $500 million lawsuit against Howard Stern for allegedly breaching his contract by failing to disclose the details of his deal with Sirius Satellite Radio while still employed by Infinity Broadcasting. Stern vowed to fight the suit, and said on his radio program that Moonves and CBS were trying to "bully" him and his agent, Don Buchwald. Stern later appeared on CBS' own Late Show with David Letterman, wearing a shirt mocking Moonves and his wife. On June 7, 2006, Stern announced that the lawsuit had been settled. As part of the settlement, Sirius acquired the exclusive rights to all of the WXRK tapes (over two decades worth of shows) for $2 million.
Moonves is considered the second most highly paid director for 2012: he received $58.8 million.
He is considered the second most highly paid executive for 2013, receiving $65.4 million.
In 2013, Moonves was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame.
He became chairman of CBS in February 2016.
Of the tone of the 2016 Republican presidential campaign and the advertising dollars it delivers, Moonves said, "It may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS." He added, "Donald's place in this election is a good thing."
Moonves has served on the board of ZeniMax Media since its foundation in 1999, alongside his friend and ZeniMax president Ernest Del. Moonves' investment in the company has been noted, as well as his appearances at several launch parties, including for Bethesda Softworks' Fallout 3, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and Rage.
In his early career, Moonves was an actor. He landed a few television roles, playing tough guys on Cannon and The Six Million Dollar Man before deciding on a career change. He also worked as one of casting director Caro Jones' first office assistants early in her career.
On April 7, 2003, Moonves portrayed himself in an episode of The Practice.
From early 2004, Moonves has made regular contributions to Late Show with David Letterman. One of these appearances was provoked by Letterman himself when he declared outrage that Jay Leno was featured prominently on the CBS website in an ad for CBS' telecast of the People's Choice Awards. On the Late Show, Letterman jokingly warned the "CBS stooge in the control room" to call his buddies "before things turn ugly." Moonves obliged. Later appearances have taken the same format, with Letterman discussing current events and the CBS network with the company's CEO.
On the March 23, 2015 premiere episode of The Late Late Show with James Corden, Moonves portrayed himself as the head of CBS, who then sends out a golden ticket that will grant whoever finds it a chance to host the Late Late Show, in an homage to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Moonves would also appear on the first episode of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on September 8, 2015. During this episode, Moonves was repeatedly shown with a giant switch which he could use to switch the network to reruns of The Mentalist (as CBS had aired reruns of scripted dramas in the 11:35 pm time slot over the summer between the final episode of the Late Show with David Letterman and the premiere of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert) if he was dissatisfied with Colbert's performance (which he did, briefly, twice during the show).
Moonves with his wife Julie Chen at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival
In 1978, Moonves married Nancy Wiesenfeld (m. December 17, 1978, div. 2004) with whom he has three children. In April 2003, Nancy Moonves filed for divorce in L.A. Superior Court, citing irreconcilable differences. Nancy and Les Moonves were already living apart.
In 2004, although his divorce from Nancy was not yet finalized, Les Moonves began dating CBS' The Early Show reporter Julie Chen. On December 10, 2004, Moonves got a court to grant an early divorce. Tired of waiting, Moonves' motion cited a "desire to return to the status of being single". Moonves foresaw a lengthy trial to settle the property and other issues. He argued that "terminating the marital status will aid in promoting settlement of this matter", and the judge gave his request the stamp of approval—leaving the divorce's alimony, child support and property division details to be determined later—so he could remarry. Just 13 days later in Mexico, he married television and news personality Julie Chen. On September 24, 2009, Chen gave birth to a son, Charlie Moonves.
Moonves resides in Beverly Hills, California, in a house he bought from Andy Heyward. He also owns residences in New York City and Malibu.
Of his practice of Transcendental Meditation, Moonves has said, "It puts me in a calm state, which I'm not always in."
Moonves is a great-nephew of David Ben-Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel.