Unscripted Book Summary - Unscripted Book explained in key points
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Unscripted summary

James B Stewart and Rachel Abrams

The Epic Battle for a Media Empire and the Redstone Family Legacy

3.8 (25 ratings)
17 mins
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    Meet the Redstones

    Most people who are lucky enough to reach their nineties revel in the peace and quiet that typically accompanies old age.

    But that wasn’t the case for Sumner Redstone. In the years leading up to his death, at the age of 97, there were business battles, explosive family fights, glamorous younger lovers, and multiple lawsuits.

    Then again, there had rarely been a dull moment in Sumner’s life. As a young man, before going to Harvard Law School, he’d joined the military, where he helped crack codes in Japanese.

    Then he became a media mogul – the chairman of Viacom and CBS. With his ambition and business acumen, he ended up with an estimated worth of more than $2.5 billion.

    Sumner was tough – a survivor. In 1979, there was a fire outside his hotel room. Sumner tried to escape out a window, and hung from the ledge while his arm was engulfed by the flames. 

    “The pain was excruciating,” Sumner later recalled in his autobiography, “but I refused to let go.”

    By the way, he wasn’t alone in that hotel room – he was there with one of his many lovers. 

    Sumner remained married to his first wife, Phyllis, for more than 50 years … until she decided she’d finally had enough of his serial infidelities.

    We’ll come back to Sumner’s complicated love life in a bit. But first, we need to understand his relationship with another woman – his daughter.

    Shari Redstone shared her father’s intelligence and business skills. Forbes magazine once ranked her as one of the most powerful women in the world – above Queen Elizabeth II.

    Shari was the president of National Amusements. And as Sumner’s health declined, she became increasingly involved in Viacom and CBS, with the expectation that she would take over after his death.

    It should have been a dream team – father and daughter working together. However, it was anything but. According to people who knew them, Shari adored her father and craved his approval. But they would often clash over business decisions. 

    For example, in 2004, Sumner and Shari butted heads over plans to split Viacom into two separate companies: Viacom and CBS. 

    These kinds of disputes enraged Sumner. He would bombard Shari with profanity-filled emails, copying Viacom executives into the threads. On multiple occasions, he called her the “c-word.” 

    When Sumner’s lawyer begged him to tone it down, Sumner got even angrier. He would call his daughter whatever he wanted.

    And the relationship between father and daughter would become even more strained in the years to come.

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    What is Unscripted about?

    Unscripted (2023) is the outrageous true story of Sumner Redstone, the former chairman and controlling shareholder of ViacomCBS (now Paramount Global). It focuses on the eventful final years of Redstone’s life, as well as the downfall of his successor at CBS, Les Moonves.

    Who should read Unscripted?

    • Fans of TV dramas like Succession
    • People who enjoy juicy nonfiction and true crime
    • Anyone who wants a behind-the-scenes glimpse of corporate America

    About the Author

    James B. Stewart and Rachel Abrams are Pulitzer-winning journalists who have both written for the New York Times. Abrams was on the reporting team that exposed the sexual misconduct of Harvey Weinstein and other prominent figures. Stewart is the author of eleven books, including Den of Thieves and Deep State.

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