‘Unscripted’ Book Authors Provide Insights on Redstone Empire Mess

What began for a pair of New York Times reporters as an investigation into managerial malfeasance ended up turning into a family drama.

While it was the actions of Viacom founder Sumner Redstone and CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves that first attracted James B. Stewart and Rachel Abrams to what became their new book, “Unscripted: The Epic Battle for a Media Empire and the Redstone Family Legacy,” it was a third figure who ultimately loomed larger for Stewart.

“We had Shari Redstone, the much under-appreciated — to put it mildly — daughter of Sumner Redstone thrust into a world that was not of her choosing, in an attempt to gain control of the companies and the family legacy,” he said on the latest episode of the Variety podcast “Strictly Business.” “So that became the much bigger story. It’s a corporate story, it is a MeToo story, but it’s much bigger than that.”

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As Abrams and Stewart recount in the book, Shari Redstone had a difficult time getting the cooperation of management at Viacom and CBS, in addition to tangling with her own father, with whom she had a complicated relationship, and the women who attempted to gain control of the companies from him.

The “Unscripted” authors broke new ground in illuminating the circumstances around the final years of Redstone, who died in 2020 at the age of 97. Sources from the boardrooms of CBS and Viacom, as well as those privy to what went on in the halls of Redstone’s Los Angeles mansion, paint a portrait of dysfunction and greed not previously documented.

The book also provides an unsparing look at the downfall of Moonves, who was ultimately undone by a steady stream of sexual misconduct allegations. As battered as his reputation was, Abrams doesn’t rule out the possibility that he could eventually make a comeback, though Moonves has largely laid low since his 2018 ouster.

“I would have to imagine that there is a world where the combination of time, distance, gratitude, perhaps people feeling like they owe him something — I could imagine a world in which they all combine where somebody is willing to give him another shot,” she said. “I don’t I don’t know if it’s likely or not. But he’s done a lot of favors for a lot of people.”

“Strictly Business” is Variety’s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of media and entertainment. A new episode debuts each Wednesday and can be downloaded on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher and SoundCloud.

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