07.28.10 1:08 AM ET
New Sumner Girl on Payroll
The Viacom and CBS billionaire forced an unskilled young "friend" onto his company and gave her a large stock package. Peter Lauria on Redstone's corporate mandate to "make her happy."
Sumner Redstone, already in the middle of a firestorm for his insistence that MTV develop a show about his favorite all-girl band The Electric Barbarellas, has another personnel issue involving a female friend: The 87-year-old billionaire has apparently forced Showtime, the pay-TV division of CBS, which he also controls, to put a young, apparently unqualified brunette on the public company’s payroll.
“This is not my first job, but I can’t tell you where I worked before. I have to go now.”
According to multiple sources inside CBS, or with knowledge of the situation, Rohini Singh, a veteran of the Los Angeles party scene, was hired last summer in the publicity office of Showtime at the direction of Redstone himself—and much to the chagrin of network employees, who were supposedly in the midst of a hiring and raise freeze. This is in addition to Redstone’s gift of 2,522 shares of Class B Viacom stock that she sold in March for just under $77,000, as first reported yesterday by Roger Friedman in his Showbiz411 column.
According to one CBS insider, Redstone instructed Showtime executives to give Singh free rein to pick the job she wanted. Because of Redstone’s personal relationship with her, a former CBS insider with knowledge of the situation says, Showtime executives “at first tried to find something industrious for her to do.” But after a rotation in casting, programming, and other departments within the network, Singh landed in publicity, in part because her best asset is her ability to party and, according to this former insider, “you don’t need a specialized skill set for PR.”
“This girl comes in and can pick,” says the current CBS insider who added that Showtime CEO Matt Blank basically told Richard Licata, the network’s executive vice president for corporate communications, to “make her happy.”
Apparently, a third CBS source says, that means Singh doesn’t do very much: only the most basic entry-level tasks like compiling clips and making phone calls. Yet, she banks a salary from Showtime estimated by the first CBS insider to be around $50,000 per year—more than most assistants at the company make—not to mention the stock gift. (One of the singers for the Electric Barbarellas, Heather Naylor, also received a hefty stock grant at that time.) The first CBS insider and another source close to Singh also pointed out that she drives a brand new Range Rover, which can cost upward of $60,000.
The revelations surrounding Singh follow Redstone’s offer to me just last week of a “reward” and “protection” in return for providing the names of sources who told me about how the media titan was forcing MTV to develop a show about a raunchy all-girl group dubbed The Electric Barbarellas over the objections of executives at the network. Sources familiar with the situation said the act was so bad that Redstone’s insistence may eventually prompt MTV CEO Judy McGrath to leave.
Calls to Redstone yesterday were not answered, but a representative for the mogul, whose fortune is at an estimated $9 billion, issued a statement: “Sumner Redstone has given personal gifts of stock to friends and family members, as well as major charitable gifts totaling over $100 million to health and educational institutions, such as the Keck School of Medicine at USC, Massachusetts General Hospital, The Kennedy Library Foundation, [and others]. All these gifts were from personal holdings and all appropriate filings were made.”
Peter Lauria: CBS Staffer Alleges Redstone Abuse
• Hear the Tape! Sumner Redstone Tries to Reward Peter LauriaWhile the statement seemingly tries to explain away Redstone’s stock gift as a gesture between “friends,” Singh herself, when reached at her Showtime office yesterday, denied that she knew Redstone or that he had anything to do with her getting the job at Showtime. When asked about her job experience, Singh said, “This is not my first job, but I can’t tell you where I worked before. I have to go now.” And with that she abruptly hung up the phone.
But, according to the source familiar with Singh’s performance, “No one was ever really sure what she did. She was just one of those girls who always showed up at the A-list parties for some reason.”
Redstone, 87, and Singh, 30, have gone out on at least two occasions, sources confirmed. On one occasion about a year ago she arrived via limousine with the octogenarian at a Showtime event and spent the night by his side.
“She got the job at Showtime shortly thereafter,” notes one of the sources.
Last September, Redstone escorted Singh and another girl to an Emmy party.
“What is our intern doing at Sumner Redstone’s table?” a second source remembers wondering about Singh.
A lengthy profile in Los Angeles Magazine in 2001 provides a small window into Singh’s pre-Redstone personal life, which at the time evidently included late nights clubbing with the likes of Coolio, Fred Durst, and other A-list celebs of the time. While describing the “slut/angel/slut” caste system that defines the women of the L.A. nightlife scene, Singh, who was using the surname Reiss at the time of the interview, notes that “sluts” are girls that flirt a lot but don’t sleep around or give out their phone numbers. “Angels,” by contrast, is used ironically to refer to girls who sleep around a lot but no one knows about it.
And then, as Singh is quoted as saying, “There’s a third group of women who sleep around with celebrities and CEOs and producers all over town, and they’re called sluts, too. A lot of guys say I have a reputation for sleeping around.” Singh quickly denied allegedly sleeping around to the interviewer, but seemingly didn’t have a problem mentioning that other people thought she did.
It’s unknown whether or where Redstone’s relationship with Singh falls on that spectrum, but in both this instance and with The Electric Barbarellas, Redstone is seemingly using his status as the chairman of not one, but two publicly traded companies (CBS and Viacom) to advance his personal interests.
In doing so, he is negatively impacting shareholders in both of those companies. In a research report last week, for instance, Wunderlich Securities wrote that it discounts Viacom’s stock by 10 percent simply because the erratic Redstone remains in command. Put another way, if Redstone were to be removed from Viacom, the securities firm says that its share price would gain 10 percent immediately. That’s more than $3 per share based on Viacom’s closing stock price of $32.87 yesterday, or $1.8 billion in total market value. CBS, presumably, suffers from a similar discount.
For individual and institutional shareholders in CBS and Viacom, perhaps that’s something to consider.
Peter Lauria is senior correspondent covering business, media, and entertainment for The Daily Beast. He previously covered music, movies, television, cable, radio, and corporate media as a business reporter for The New York Post. His work has also appeared in Avenue, Blender, Black Men, and Media Magazine, and he's appeared on CNBC, Bloomberg, BBC Radio, and Reuters TV.