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April 30, 2009

Redstone: 'CSI' will trounce Leno

By Paul Bond

Sumner Redstone says he'll live forever, but he only gives newspapers another decade or so.

The executive chairman of Viacom and CBS, speaking to CNN's Larry King, said News Corp. chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch overpaid when he bought Dow Jones, parent company of the Wall Street Journal, for $5 billion.

"I'm not sure there will be newspapers in 10 years," Redstone said.

Comparing the Journal to another News Corp. newspaper, Redstone added that at least Murdoch "hasn't screwed it up like the New York Post."

Redstone, speaking with King before an overflow crowd at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills on Wednesday, said several times that he wasn't interested in critiquing his competitors. Then he did just that.

Of NBC's decision to create a 10 p.m. show for Jay Leno, for example, he said: " 'CSI' will beat the hell out of him," referring to the CBS hit crime show.

He said Disney made a mistake when it got rid of former CEO Michael Eisner. He said Ted Turner "oversold" himself to Time Warner, leading to him lose control over CNN.

Control was a theme of his presentation, and Redstone stressed that he'd never lose or relinquish it at Viacom and CBS because he'd never retire. Or die.

"The people who fear dying are people who are going to die. I'm not going to die. I'm going to live forever," said Redstone, who turns 86 next month.

He feels so young, he said, his life might as well be referred to as "The Curious Case of Sumner Redstone."

His two companies are the best in the media industry, he said, crediting Viacom president and CEO Philippe Dauman and CBS president and CEO Les Moonves.

"Talk to people who work for me. They love me," Redstone told King.

The hourlong discussion touched on politics, economics, health, sex and Redstone's survival of a fire in 1979 that almost left him without the ability to walk.

He predicted a record year for Paramount, even taking market share from rival studios on the strength of films like "Star Trek" and "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra."

He said that when it comes to appropriate TV programming, his motto is: "Violence is bad, sex is good."

He called Fox News Channel "a very exciting channel to watch" and said that if Viacom/CBS were to partner with CNN in order to break into the cable news business, "It would be damn good for CNN."

He said he voted for John McCain for president, calling President Obama charismatic but inexperienced, and he said of the economy: "We're in the beginning of a bull market."

Redstone attributed his health and longevity to antioxidants, the goji berry and even some alcohol: about a half a glass of red wine each day and a shot of Grey Goose vodka.

At a panel discussion following Redstone and King, Moonves, along with Imagine Entertainment partner Brian Grazer, News Corp. COO Peter Chernin and Jon Miller, the recently named chairman and CEO of News Corp.'s digital media group, spoke of DVRs, the Internet and negotiating with labor guilds.

"It's a time of enourmous uncertainty. I don't blame the guilds for being nervous," Chernin said, calling on their members to be more flexible while TV and film studios try to get a handle on making money in a digital environment.

"There's no scenario in life in which you can sort of legislate protection from marketplace changes," he said.


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