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Can Strauss Zelnick and his hot body save CBS?

Andy Serwer
Editor in Chief

“How would you like to have the mind, body, and spirit of someone half your age, and add more years to your life? Or have people stare in disbelief when they discover how old you really are? How would you like to become…ageless?”

Sounds like the promo for just another mind/body, self-help book, right? It sure is. But the rub here is that the book was written by the new interim chairman of the board of CBS, Strauss Zelnick.

Zelnick, a buff, driven media exec wrote “Becoming Ageless: The Four Secrets to Looking and Feeling Younger than ever,” (along with Zack Zeigler.) The book was published in September and Zelnick made the usual publicity rounds on the Today Show and CNN.

In his new role, Zelnick’s replacing former Time Warner CEO Dick Parsons, who had to step down as CBS Board chair citing health problems. Zelnick who joined the CBS board in September, (a busy month for him), was brought on by Shari Redstone, the controlling shareholder of CBS.

Before we get into more on Zelnick here’s a review of “Becoming Ageless” on Amazon:

“I have had the good fortune of meeting the author and I can attest that he is indeed proof of the power of the secrets contained within this book. He lives it every day, mind and body, and it shows – in his physique, his mantra, his success and his generosity. For anyone who needs motivation to get going or for anyone who simply wants an extra trick or two in their daily routine, I cannot recommend this book more.”

One hopes Zelnick does indeed follow his own regimen. He’s going to need all the fortitude he can muster in his new job—more on that in a second. Fortunately for him, he does have a bit of a media pedigree. Zelnick’s CEO of Take-Two Interactive (the hot gaming company that has properties like “Grand Theft Auto.”) Previously, he was CEO of music giant BMG and before that president and COO of 20th Century Fox, where he ran Fox’s movie businesses.

Zelnick also worked with Tim Collins of the private equity firm Ripplewood, which bankrolled a record company deal with Zelnick in Japan, though a source says that relationship ended on a sour note. Zelnick also has an MBA and JD from Harvard.

Strauss Zelnick (Galvanized Media / Simon & Schuster)

He also seems to have had an entrepreneurial streak. One media exec recalls that back in the 1990s, “[Zelnick] used to give gift bottles every year of his allegedly homemade BBQ sauce— ‘Strauss in the House.’” New York Magazine reported that he would give twelve-packs to his friends “including Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs [and] Carly Simon… The label of ‘Strauss in the House’ displays a head shot of the mogul, and the bottle is probably the only one in the sauce biz with the address of a record company’s corporate headquarters on the back.”

So, ok, you get the picture, a Type Triple A guy. Which is all well and good. But here’s the thing. CBS is both an uptight, snobbish kind of place and paradoxically a fetid snake pit. Coupled with the Tiffany Network’s high holy of CBS News—never friendly to upstart newcomers to begin with (and from a video game company no less)—is a company wracked by blockbuster allegations of serial sexual abuse and deeply engrained sexism against former CEO Les Moonves, its former marquee male anchor Charlie Rose, and its signature 60 Minutes program. Besides the multiple investigations, one being led by outside counsel and former SEC Commission Mary Jo White, factions and infighting abound.

Indeed, washboard abs may come in handy here.

Even though Edward R. Murrow may be roiling over in his grave, Strauss Zelnick may be just what CBS needs. A 61-year-old Dorian Gray-like, self-help book writing, barbecue sauce shilling, former record company executive.

And who knows, I wouldn’t even be surprised if Strauss Zelnick ends up becoming CEO.

With everything that’s gone wrong at CBS, what the ageless Strauss Zelnick brings, may be better than what the company had before.

Andy Serwer is editor-in-chief of Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @serwer

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