Sumner Redstone is a pugnacious billionaire who controls two of the world’s largest entertainment companies — Viacom Inc. and CBS Corp. The Harvard-trained lawyer once survived a deadly hotel fire by clinging to the building’s ledge. In the '60s, '70s and '80s, Redstone ran a regional movie theater circuit in the Northeast before expanding his empire with the hostile takeover of Viacom Inc. The cable television company included the nascent Music Television channel and Nickelodeon, two networks that would go on to become the cultural and financial heart of the company.
In 1994, Redstone fulfilled his Hollywood ambitions by buying Paramount Pictures, the legendary Melrose Avenue movie studio behind such hits as "Forrest Gump," "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider," "Saving Private Ryan" and "Mission: Impossible."
"I knew the single most important key to our future growth would be the creation of software: movies, TV shows and books," Redstone said.
Redstone’s voracious appetite for companies helped fuel the rapid consolidation of media. Viacom in 2000 completed the nearly $40 billion merger with broadcasting giant CBS. Redstone’s late-in-life coup ensured that his companies long would be prominent purveyors of some of the most popular programming in television: professional football, "60 Minutes," "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," "Late Show With David Letterman," "SpongeBob SquarePants," "Dora the Explorer," "Jersey Shore" and Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Showtime, BET, VH-1, TV Land and book publisher Simon & Schuster round out the portfolio.