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Les Moonves Biography


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Birth Name: Les Moonves
Born: 12/23/1948
Birth Place: New York City, New York, USA


Born on Dec. 23, 1948 in New York City, Moonves was the son of a gas station owner who graduated from Valley Stream Central High School on Long Island. He went on to earn his bachelor's degree from Bucknell University and pursued an acting career at New York's Neighborhood Playhouse, studying under renowned coach Sanford Meisner. He performed in numerous stage and television productions, including "Cannon" (CBS, 1971-76) and "The Six Million Dollar Man" (ABC, 1974-78), before opting to produce plays on Broadway and in Los Angeles. His theater producer stint helped introduced Moonves to the business side of Hollywood. One of Moonves' first positions was as a development executive for Catalina Productions, followed by President of Development for Saul Ilson Productions in association with Columbia Pictures Television. The ever-ambitious Moonves' next big jump was to Vice President of Movies and Miniseries for Twentieth Century Fox Television, where he was also in charge of first-run syndication and pay/cable programming.

In 1985, Moonves joined Lorimar Productions - at the time a huge TV studio - again as an executive in charge of its movies and miniseries. He then promptly rose to head of creative affairs in 1988, before finally serving as president of Lorimar from 1989-93. In July of 1993, Warner Bros. Television combined operations with Lorimar and, not surprisingly, he was installed as the president of the new company. With his new position, Moonves oversaw a television division that supplied the greatest number of programs to network television for nine consecutive years, culminating in a record-setting 22 series including "ER" (NBC, 1994-2009), "Friends" (NBC, 1994-2005) and "The Drew Carey Show (ABC, 1995-2004) on the 1995-96 network schedules. In 1995, CBS came calling and hired Moonves as president of CBS Entertainment. Three years later, the formerly struggling network developed television's top drama, "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" (2001- ), while also scheduling other big hits like "Survivor" (2001- ), "Everybody Loves Raymond" (1997-2005), "Two and a Half Men" (2003- ), "The King of Queens" (1998-2007), "Without a Trace" (2002-09), "Cold Case" (2003-2010) and the Emmy Award-winning reality series, "The Amazing Race" (2002- ).

To no one's surprise, CBS became America's most watched television network again, going from a stodgy fourth to a shiny first under Moonves' tenure and making him the only U.S. broadcast network executive who could claim an increase in viewers in 2003. That same year, Moonves was promoted again, this time to Chairman and CEO of CBS, while in early 2004 he was given the reins as co-president and co-CEO of Viacom, Inc., sharing duties with Sumner Redstone until December of 2005 when Viacom was spun off the corporate umbrella as the CBS Corporation. From early 2004, Moonves began to make regular contributions to "The Late Show with David Letterman" (CBS, 1993- ), this time back in front of the camera or by humorous call-ins. These humorous appearances originated from a criticism Letterman had with his CBS bosses - chiefly that Letterman's chief rival, Jay Leno, was prominently featured in an ad for the "The People's Choice Awards" on the CBS website. On "The Late Show," Letterman comically warned the "CBS stooges in the control room" to call his buddies "before things turn ugly." Moonves obliged and continued to make appearances with the same tongue-in-cheek format - including a funny bit where Bill Murray begged him for Super Bowl tickets - while Letterman sarcastically discussed current events and the status of CBS with its well-humored CEO.

Within a few short months, Moonves experienced all the good and the bad life can offer, starting with his acrimonious divorce from first wife, Nancy, whom he married in 1978. The executive started dating Julie Chen, co-host of CBS' "The Early Show," while still technically married to his first wife, prompting him to petition a judge for an early divorce - California law mandates a six-month separation period. Ultimately, Moonves was granted his wish and went on to marry Chen two days before Christmas in 2004. Meanwhile, he incurred the wrath of Trekkies worldwide when he was identified as the executive directly responsible for canceling "Star Trek: Enterprise" (UPN, 2001-05), thus ending an 18-year run of "Star Trek" shows on the network. Meanwhile, in January 2006, he helped bring together CBS-owned UPN with Time/Warner-owned The WB to form to The CW Network in a successful deal that spawned several popular shows, including "America's Top Model" (2003- ) and "The Vampire Diaries" (2009- ).

Despite the overall success of that particular merger, Moonves was forced to wage a nasty public battle with shock jock Howard Stern that left his humorous, laidback "Late Night" persona in the dust. In February of 2006, Moonves led CBS to file a $500 million lawsuit against 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, a subsidiary of CBS. Stern publicly vowed to fight the lawsuit and claimed numerous times that both Moonves and the network were trying to bully him. In fact, Stern showed up on Letterman's couch to mock Moonves on his own turf, and even wore a shirt that mocked the executive and his wife. Eventually, the two sides settled the suit in mid-2006, though by then the damage to Moonves' reputation had been done, while Stern moved on to a lucrative deal on satellite radio. Once the dust settled, Moonves enjoyed further hits with shows like "Criminal Minds" (2005- ), "How I Met Your Mother" (2005- ) and "The Big Bang Theory" (2007- ), and saw his contract extended to 2017 in 2012, which included a $22 million signing bonus.