Divorces aren’t always forever. But if CBS Corp. and Paramount Pictures parent Viacom Inc., do indeed decide to get back together, it won’t be out of love … but instead, necessity.
With family members and company executives battling over control of the majority shares in both companies owned by 93-year-old Sumner Redstone, some serious talk has started that might aim the two separate companies toward undoing the 2006 split, and re-merging Viacom and CBS.
That would have a tremendous impact on a good portion of Hollywood — especially as a combined CBS/Viacom would clearly become one of the largest media companies again, probably second only to the Walt Disney Co. But it also could fix another problem created by the corporate split a decade ago — it could put both halves of the Star Trek franchise back together again.
When Viacom spun off CBS at the beginning of 2006, network head Les Moonves took control of the television side of Star Trek, including the complete episodic library between the launch of “Star Trek” in 1966 to the most recent end to “Star Trek: Enterprise” in 2005. Redstone, however, wouldn’t let Moonves take Paramount. That allowed Viacom to keep not only the film studio, but also the film rights and library to Star Trek, beginning with 1979’s “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” and continuing through 2002’s “Star Trek: Nemesis.”
The break, however, hasn’t necessarily been good for Star Trek. Paramount allowed J.J. Abrams to “reboot” the franchise on the film side, beginning with a new timeline established in 2009’s “Star Trek.” The studio found tremendous success in those films, however, with both “Star Trek” and the 2013 sequel “Star Trek: Into Darkness” grossing nearly $900 million worldwide. A third film, “Star Trek: Beyond,” is set to hit theaters in July.
Abrams, however, found himself discouraged from staying too involved in the Star Trek franchise. He dreamt of taking over Trek through all distribution platforms — including television — and putting together a universe similar to what Disney has done with its Marvel comic properties. CBS, however, wasn’t interested, killing the idea.
Although full details of who gets what in Star Trek between the two companies have never been made public, reports in recent years suggest Paramount had a lot of influence over where and when CBS could start a new Trek television series, including one claim that CBS had to wait six months after a Trek movie release before launching a new series.
The two companies did come together last December, however, to sue the “independent” fan-film company Axanar Productions and its principal Alec Peters for copyright infringement. Despite winning a key early battle in court last month, rumors suggest the companies are at odds with each other after Abrams and “Beyond” director Justin Lin pushed Paramount to settle the lawsuit, something CBS reportedly was not interested in doing.
Some observers could see a new Viacom with CBS chairman Les Moonves at the helm, however, according to a recent story by Los Angeles Times reporter Meg James. CBS, as a network, has been at or near the top of the ratings heap for years, while Viacom has struggled — its stock value nearly cut in half in just the last two years alone.
“It’s clear that Les Moonves knows what he is doing while the people running Viacom are stumbling around in the dark,” Jonathan Taplin, a communications professor at the University of Southern California, told the newspaper.
In fact, Viacom’s current chairman, Philippe Dauman, is now suing the Redstone family over who will control the 80 percent stake in both Viacom and CBS once Sumner Redstone dies.
That pushed one shareholder of Viacom to publicly support Dauman’s ouster, advocating Moonves as the replacement — through a re-merged Viacom.
But putting the pieces back together again might not be as easy as breaking it up in the first place. While the Redstone family owns a vast majority of both companies, other shareholders still have a say. Viacom might love a chance to connect with CBS again — but CBS could conclude that Viacom is just too toxic as a business venture.
Yet it’s still an interesting prospect. And one we’ll just have to wait and see how it pans out.
In the meantime, check out Meg James’ full story on a potential re-merger right here.