La épica batalla por un imperio mediático y el legado de la familia Redstone

What’s in it for me? The scandalous story behind a media empire.

You’ve likely heard of most, if not all, of the following media companies: National Amusements, Viacom, CBS, and Paramount. 

And you may know what links these companies: for years, they were run by the billionaire business mogul Sumner Redstone.

But what you probably don’t know is the behind-the-scenes drama of his final years at the helm. It involves the geriatric Sumner Redstone, his long-suffering daughter, Shari, and a couple of Sumner’s scheming, much younger lovers. 

Certain scenes are like something out of a soap opera. And where one scandalous story ends, another begins – specifically, the disturbing allegations against CBS chairman Les Moonves in the context of the #MeToo movement.

Written by the Pulitzer-winning journalists James B. Stewart and Rachel Abrams, Unscripted is a gripping account of events spanning decades, with a dizzying cast of characters. 

In this summary, we’ll try to keep things simple, focusing on the key players and the events between 2010 and 2018. We’ll also mainly be looking at the relationships and scandals rather than the inner workings of the business. You’ll get an insight into what really goes on behind closed doors in LA mansions and Manhattan offices.

So, let’s start by meeting the family at the center of it all – the Redstones.

Meet the Redstones

Most people who are lucky enough to reach their nineties revel in the peace and quiet that typically accompanies old age.

But that wasn’t the case for Sumner Redstone. In the years leading up to his death, at the age of 97, there were business battles, explosive family fights, glamorous younger lovers, and multiple lawsuits.

Then again, there had rarely been a dull moment in Sumner’s life. As a young man, before going to Harvard Law School, he’d joined the military, where he helped crack codes in Japanese.

Then he became a media mogul – the chairman of Viacom and CBS. With his ambition and business acumen, he ended up with an estimated worth of more than $2.5 billion.

Sumner was tough – a survivor. In 1979, there was a fire outside his hotel room. Sumner tried to escape out a window, and hung from the ledge while his arm was engulfed by the flames. 

“The pain was excruciating,” Sumner later recalled in his autobiography, “but I refused to let go.”

By the way, he wasn’t alone in that hotel room – he was there with one of his many lovers. 

Sumner remained married to his first wife, Phyllis, for more than 50 years … until she decided she’d finally had enough of his serial infidelities.

We’ll come back to Sumner’s complicated love life in a bit. But first, we need to understand his relationship with another woman – his daughter.

Shari Redstone shared her father’s intelligence and business skills. Forbes magazine once ranked her as one of the most powerful women in the world – above Queen Elizabeth II.

Shari was the president of National Amusements. And as Sumner’s health declined, she became increasingly involved in Viacom and CBS, with the expectation that she would take over after his death.

It should have been a dream team – father and daughter working together. However, it was anything but. According to people who knew them, Shari adored her father and craved his approval. But they would often clash over business decisions. 

For example, in 2004, Sumner and Shari butted heads over plans to split Viacom into two separate companies: Viacom and CBS. 

These kinds of disputes enraged Sumner. He would bombard Shari with profanity-filled emails, copying Viacom executives into the threads. On multiple occasions, he called her the “c-word.” 

When Sumner’s lawyer begged him to tone it down, Sumner got even angrier. He would call his daughter whatever he wanted.

And the relationship between father and daughter would become even more strained in the years to come.

Sumner’s girlfriends

If you google Sumner Redstone, you’ll find articles about his sex obsession – and images of an elderly man with dyed red hair, posing with glamorous, decades-younger women. 

Sumner may appear to be an unlikely lothario, but remember: he was a billionaire. And just as he clung to that burning window ledge, he did his best to cling to any attractive young woman that came his way.

Sumner had numerous affairs during his five-decade marriage. He then got married again, to a 38-year-old elementary school teacher he met on a blind date. After that ended, Sumner – now in his late eighties – pursued even younger women. Some of his romantic interests had previously dated his grandson!

He became particularly obsessed with Malia Andelin, a 26-year-old flight attendant on his private jet. “Do you like to be spanked?” Sumner asked her, before pestering her for a date. Andelin said no – and, as a result, she lost her job.

Sumner then sent her a gift – a handbag encrusted with jewels in the shape of a panther. The note read, “I’m a panther and I’m going to pounce.” 

Andelin eventually gave in. Instead of working as Sumner’s flight attendant, she became his “companion.” She joined him for dinners at his mansion, and walked the red carpet with him at Hollywood events.

By Sumner’s standards, the $5,000 handbag he gave Andelin was a relatively modest present. The women he dated often received extravagant gifts and Viacom stock. Some even got properties worth millions of dollars. 

Sumner also constantly amended his trust, adding his girlfriends as beneficiaries. He’s estimated to have given away more than $20 million to several different women – as well as smaller amounts to many, many more.

Sumner was particularly generous to two women, Sydney Holland and Manuela Herzer, who would play defining roles in the last years of his life.

Sydney Holland was an attractive 39-year-old entrepreneur who was struggling financially. After meeting Holland through a celebrity matchmaker, Sumner became obsessed with her. He showered her with gifts. When he proposed, in 2011, it was with a nine-carat diamond ring.

Years before, Sumner had also proposed to a glamorous Argentinian, Manuela Herzer. Although she turned him down, the two remained close. And Herzer continued to benefit from Sumner’s generosity. 

The word “generosity” might be an understatement. 

In 2013, Sumner gave Holland and Herzer cash gifts worth $9.1 million. And the following year, the two women talked to Sumner about the money he was planning to leave them after his death. Why wait, they asked, when he could simply give them the money now?

So after selling a huge amount of stock, Sumner sent Holland and Herzer $45 million each. In the short term, these transactions almost drained his account.

His acquaintances were concerned, but what could they do? His lawyer shrugged: “You know how he is about women.”

This was the scene at Sumner’s mansion in 2014. He was living with his fiancée, Holland – as well as his ex-girlfriend, Herzer. She was supposed to be there temporarily while her house was being renovated. But clearly, she was in no hurry to move out.

The atmosphere in the mansion became tense as staff realized just how much power and influence the two women had over Sumner – Herzer in particular. She was soon giving orders and overseeing his medical care.

As you can imagine, Shari Redstone was not happy with these developments. She also felt that Holland and Herzer were driving a wedge between her and her father.

And soon, Shari’s distrust turned to alarm.

A double breakup

As Sumner declined, both physically and mentally, he became completely dependent on Holland and Herzer. 

They were involved with every aspect of his care. For Herzer, that included getting her personal assistant to try and “engage” sexually with Sumner – under the supervision of his nurse. 

Being surrounded by attentive, beautiful women may have once been Sumner’s idea of a dream. But it soon became a nightmare.

Sumner’s staff noticed that Holland and Herzer were often dismissive, neglectful, or downright abusive. They fed Sumner pieces of food that were too large for him to swallow, causing him to choke.

“I think they’re trying to kill him,” Sumner’s grandson told Shari.

Unfortunately, by this point, Shari’s contact with her father was limited – there was little she could do. Sumner’s nurses were also concerned about Holland and Herzer’s behavior. They even contacted Adult Protective Services. But nothing changed.

However, the women would soon bring about their own downfall.

It started with Holland. In 2014, she began an affair with a soap actor, George Pilgrim. She then got engaged to him while still being engaged to Sumner.

Holland’s volatile affair with Pilgrim ended a year later. But her secret got out. When Herzer learned about it, she gave Holland an ultimatum: “If you don’t tell Sumner, I will.”

So Holland confessed. And just as she was begging Sumner for forgiveness, Herzer burst into the room with some wild allegations. Holland was a prostitute, she said, and was plotting to kill Sumner with Pilgrim!

Sumner probably didn’t know what to believe. Presumably feeling bewildered and betrayed, he gave Holland two weeks to leave. Herzer made sure she was gone within 48 hours.

After that, Herzer started to consolidate her own power. But her reign only lasted a few more weeks – the staff at Sumner’s mansion launched a coup. 

The nurses banded together and told Sumner about Herzer’s behavior, including the lies and deception. Herzer interrupted the meeting and Sumner, who began sobbing, told her to leave.

And that was that – Holland and Herzer were out of the house, and out of the picture.

However, the story doesn’t quite end there. Sumner repeatedly insisted that he wanted his money back – the millions he had given to both Holland and Herzer.

In the following months, there were lawsuits on both sides. Things got ugly. In a deposition, when Sumner was asked who Herzer was, he paused and then replied, “She’s a fucking bitch.”

In the end, everything was resolved … sort of. The lawsuits were settled. Sumner didn’t get his money back – but then, what’s $90 million to a billionaire?

With the girlfriends gone, Sumner and his daughter Shari finally reconciled. She was now the one overseeing her father’s medical care.

And soon, she would most likely be in charge of not just the family, but the entire company.

The Les Moonves cover-up

By 2016, Sumner had been diagnosed with dementia and brain damage. And it was finally agreed that he could no longer continue as chairman of Viacom and CBS.

Philippe Dauman took over at Viacom. Although Shari Redstone was initially offered the chair position at CBS, she turned it down – and nominated Les Moonves instead.

Little did she know that this was the start of another crisis: it would soon emerge that the new chairman of CBS was basically a charming, better-looking version of Harvey Weinstein.

You might remember the front-page news stories about the Hollywood film producer. There were some shocking allegations about Weinstein’s history of sexually abusive behavior. This led to the rise of the #MeToo movement, with many women speaking out against sexual harassment.

Les Moonves himself claimed to support the #MeToo movement. The irony is that, just months later, there were rumors of his own sexual misconduct.

When CBS became aware of the allegations against Moonves, they were slow to investigate. And the board was reluctant to take any action to get rid of their chairman.

Maybe the accusations of sexual assault from multiple women are just rumors, they thought. Maybe it doesn’t matter that Moonves was involved in sexual relationships with various staff members at CBS – including his assistant, whose “duties” included giving him oral sex in his office.

But the allegations kept coming. And still, the board did nothing. 

When Shari found out, she was furious. The pressure was building from outside, too. A New Yorker exposé of Moonves’s behavior sparked outrage and calls for his suspension.

At CBS, the board was grudgingly beginning to admit that something had to be done about Moonves. Then, the New Yorker published a second article about Moonves. It was written by Ronan Farrow, the investigative journalist who had also exposed Weinstein’s behavior.

Farrow’s article was damning. It revealed that an additional six women were accusing Moonves of harassment or assault. There had been incidents of indecent exposure, physical violence, and forced oral sex.

Moonves released a statement denying the accusations. Yes, he’d had relationships with some of the women, but they’d been consensual.

Nonetheless, by this stage, Moonves had no choice but to resign from CBS. And the board decided that he wouldn’t be getting $120 million in severance pay after all.

So, what to make of all this? Obviously Moonves’s alleged behavior is appalling. But maybe it’s less surprising than it should be, given what we now know about Weinstein and other powerful men. 

Perhaps the true scandal is the cover-up at CBS. The board was remarkably slow to act, especially considering that Moonves’s sexual liaisons in the workplace seem to have been an open secret. 

Also, it’s worth noting that Shari put a lot of pressure on the board to investigate. Without her, and without the negative publicity from the New Yorker articles, who knows? Maybe Moonves would still be in charge at CBS.

If you think about it, the story ends with an unexpected twist. Despite the indignities of Sumner Redstone’s final years, he arguably wasn’t even the company’s main embarrassment.

Final Summary

Unscripted is the story of Sumner Redstone, a man who mostly got what he wanted in life – money, success, and the companionship of beautiful women.

It’s the story of Sydney Holland and Manuela Herzer, who also got what they wanted – millions of dollars. 

And it’s the story of Les Moonves, who did what he wanted and mostly got away with it … until he didn’t. Even then, he still ended up rich.

The only person who emerged from the scandal with their reputation intact was Shari Redstone – a loyal daughter and competent business leader, who did her best in difficult circumstances. 

Ultimately, Unscripted reveals a troubling side of human nature that’s all too present in environments like Hollywood and corporate America – a true tale that’s more outrageous than fiction.

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