Theater News

Glimpses of the Moonves

CBS president Leslie Moonves discusses his days as an actor, his transition to producing, and his love of theater.

Leslie Moonves
(© CBS)
Leslie Moonves
(© CBS)

If you ask many a theatergoer what their favorite television network is, they’d probably say CBS. For one thing, the so-called “Tiffany network” remains committed to broadcasting the Tony Awards live every June. And the network consistently uses theater-trained actors as the stars in their shows, from Julianna Margulies, Chris Noth and Christine Baranski in The Good Wife to CSI‘s Gary Sinise, Laurence Fishburne, and William Petersen. So it’s not totally surprising to discover that CBS president and CEO Leslie Moonves once tried to make his own way in the New York theater world, as he recently told TheaterMania.

THEATERMANIA: What is your earliest memory of yourself performing?
LESLIE MOONVES: I performed at summer camp when I was growing up. You sort of did that when you were 9 or 10 years old. I was actually really shy! After college, however, I was a professional actor.

TM: Do you remember what made you want to become an actor?
LM: We used to take the Long Island Railroad in to see shows on Broadway. I remember at a very early age seeing Peter Pan, Bye Bye Birdie and Fiddler on the Roof, and I was thoroughly wowed by that experience. My mother was very good about that. We spent a lot of time dealing with the arts in New York, and I think that really helped my desire to be in the creative field.

TM: After you graduated from Bucknell University you pursued an acting career at New York’s Neighborhood Playhouse, and studied with Sanford Meisner, and you performed on television and in theater. But then you began producing shows in Los Angeles and New York, and now you’re head of CBS. How did that transition come about?
LM: I became an actor, and then I sort of realized that it was better to be on the other side of the camera and become an executive in the television business. It was sort of a gradual change from being a performer to being a producer to being an executive and then to being a network executive.

TM: What do you like better about working behind the scenes?
LM: It’s much better to be hiring the actors than being the actor looking for a job! There’s more security and there’s more being in control of the process. When you’re an actor, you’re always dependent on somebody else deciding whether you’re good or not. This gave me much more control over my own life and my own career.

TM: Every June you get to enjoy the Tony Awards from a prime seat. What was your favorite Broadway show from the past season?

LM: I thought Fences was spectacular. I loved that production, and I really thought Denzel Washington deserved the Tony.

TM: When you’re relaxing at home during the week, which of your programs do you find yourself watching?
LM: I don’t watch CBS that much, except for the news. I watch a lot of ESPN and HBO. Two of my favorites are Entourage and Curb Your Enthusiasm. I don’t feel like I’m cheating, by the way; it’s also good to know what’s going on elsewhere in broadcasting.