In February 2017, Shari Redstone, the 62-year-old billionaire heiress and controlling shareholder of CBS and Viacom, with a honking Boston accent and a fondness for the bouffant blowout, was at the 50-yard line at Houston’s NRG Stadium to watch her beloved Patriots play in the Super Bowl. That was when CBS board member Charles Gifford, who towered over the five-foot-two Redstone, his own board’s vice-chair, grabbed her by the face to command her attention and said, “We need to talk, young lady.” She froze. Her father, Sumner Redstone, had amassed an empire of media companies like CBS, which encompassed Showtime and Simon & Schuster, and Viacom, whose cable channels (MTV, Nickelodeon, VH1) and movie studio, Paramount, had seen better days, its stock price plummeting as mismanagement and cord- cutting ate into profits. For months, she had been arguing that combining the companies would keep them competitive; CBS board members, including Gifford and CEO Les Moonves, riding high on having the No. 1 broadcast network, had resisted.
Making a scene, Redstone worried, could jeopardize her already fragile relationship with CBS’s board, which was loyal to Moonves and had watched her replace Viacom’s chief executive and several board members. “There was a concern that no matter how gingerly she approached the issue, the CBS side would interpret it as part of a power play,” said someone who gave her advice about it at the time.