Diller is an innovative television executive best known for organizing
a fourth network at FOX Broadcasting to challenge the domination
of American prime time television by ABC, CBS, and NBC. Starting
out in the mail room of the William Morris Agency, Diller joined
ABC's programming department in 1966 and was placed charge of negotiating
broadcast rights to feature films from the major studios. Promoted
to vice president in charge of feature films and program development
in 1969, Diller inaugurated ABC's Movie of the Week, a regular series
of 90-minute films made exclusively for television. Premiering on
23 September 1969, the program became the most popular movie series
in television history and helped ABC achieve parity with NBC and
CBS in the ratings.
films (MFTs) had appeared intermittently on prime time since 1965,
when NBC contracted with MCA for more than thirty World Premiere
movies to be delivered over a several year period. But it was Diller
who devised the formula that enabled MFTs to outstrip the ratings
power of theatrical movies. Abandoning conventional narratives such
as westerns and crime melodramas, Diller ordered up social problem
films that explored current issues such as homosexuality (That
Certain Summer, 1972), the Vietnam War (The Ballad of Andy
Crocker, 1969), and drugs (Go Ask Alice, 1973). Capable
of being quickly produced at a cost of around $350,000 each, docudramas
as they were called, probed current newspaper headlines and American
popular culture for gripping topics targeted at young urban and
adult audiences. By 1972, MFTs had become an established network
In 1974 at age 32, Diller was named chairman of Paramount Pictures.
He was hired by Charles Bluhdorn, head of Gulf & Western Industries,
a sprawling conglomerate that had acquired Paramount in 1966. Ten
years at the helm, Diller oversaw a studio that produced hit television
series that included Laverne & Shirley (1976), Taxi
(1978), and Cheers (1982) and a string of motion picture
ranging from Saturday Night Fever (1977), Grease (1978)
to Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and its sequel Indiana
Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) to Terms of Endearment
(1983) and Beverly Hills Cop (1984).
quit his job in 1984 over a dispute with Gulf & Western's new head,
Martin S. Davis, and went to work for Twentieth Century-FOX. After
the studio was acquired by Australian newspaper mogul Rupert Murdoch
in 1985, Diller embarked on a plan to launch a fourth television
network to compete with the Big Three. The nucleus of the network
consisted of Metromedia Television, a group of seven big-city television
stations reaching 23% of the population, which Murdoch purchased
from John Kluge in 1986 for $2 billion. Lining up an amalgam of
local UHF and VHF stations, FOX Broadcasting started out cautiously
in 1987 with only two nights of prime-time programming, but by 1990
it had expanded its schedule to five nights. Diller had succeeded
against all odds by developing low cost "reality" programming such
as Cops and America's Most Wanted and alternative
fare such as In Living Color, Married...with Children, and
The Simpsons, aimed at the youth audience, ages 18-34.
In a move that surprised the industry, Diller quit Twentieth Century-Fox
in 1992 and purchased a $25 million stake in QVC teleshopping network.
As chair of QVC, Diller launched a takeover bid for Paramount Communications
(the new name of Gulf & Western after the conglomerate sold off
its non-entertainment businesses) in 1993. The battle for Paramount
was joined by Sumner Redstone's Viacom Inc., which submitted a winning
bid of $9.6 billion in 1994. Foiled in his attempt to take over
a major film studio, Diller resigned from QVC in 1995 and acquired
Silver King Communications, a small group of UHF stations, in an
attempt to create a hybrid cable TV network that would offer a full
schedule of entertainment, sports, and news. To finance the venture,
Diller had secured the backing of John Malone, president and CEO
of Telecommunications Inc., the nation's largest cable operator.
Although the outcome of the Silver King venture is unclear, Diller
will likely remain a key player in the cable television industry
for the indefinite future.
Photo courtesy of Barry Diller
DILLER. Born in San Francisco, California, U.S.A., 2 February
1942. Assistant to vice president in charge of programming, ABC-TV,
1966; executive assistant to vice president in programming and director
of feature films, ABC, 1968; vice president, feature films and program
development, ABC, 1969; created TV movies of the week and miniseries
as vice president, feature films, Circle Entertainment, division
of ABC, 1971; vice president, prime-time TV, ABC, 1973; board chair
and president, Paramount Pictures, 1974; president, Gulf & Western
Entertainment and Communications Group (while retaining Paramount
titles), 1983; resigned from Paramount and joined 20th Century Fox
as board chair and chief executive officer, 1984; named chair and
chief executive officer, Fox, Inc., 1985; named to board, News Corp.
Limited, June 1987; resigned from 20th Century Fox, February 1992;
chief executive officer, QVC Network, 1992-95. Board of Directors:
News Corp. Ltd.; FCC Advisory Committee on Advanced TV Services;
Museum TV and Radio; Academy of Arts and Sciences Foundation. Member:
President's Export Council.
Auletta, Ken. "Barry Diller's Search for the Future: Annals of Communication."
The New Yorker (New York), 22 February 1993.
__________. "Network for Sale?" The New Yorker (New York),
25 July 1994.
Diller and FOX: Taking the High-risk Option" (interview). Broadcasting
(Washington, D.C.), 1 January 1990.
Peter. "Dealing with Diller." Variety (Los Angeles, California),
2 March 1992.
Alex Ben. Outfoxed: Marvin Davis, Barry Diller, Rupert Murdoch,
Joan Rivers and the Inside Story of America's Fourth Television
Network. New York: St. Martin's, 1990.
Richard. "'The Barry and Larry Show': Barry Diller of QVC Corp.
and Lawrence Tisch of CBS Plan Merger." Time (New York),
11 July 1994.
Mike. "QVC's Diller: Redefining TV" (interview). Broadcasting
(Washington, D.C.), 25 January 1993.
Goodell, Jeff. "Barry Diller" (interview). Rolling Stone
(New York), 25 August 1994.
McClellan, Steve. "Diller Ponders Newfound Independents: Silver
King Buy Puts Him Back in the Game." Broadcasting & Cable
(Washington, D.C.), 4 September 1995.
Moshavi, Sharon D. "Diller's Next Moves: Cable Network, Putting
Theatricals on PPV First." Broadcasting (Washington, D.C.),
25 November 1991.
Jolie, and Charles Fleming. "Regarding Barry." Newsweek (New
York), 25 July 1994.
"Vanity, Insanity and Fear (Time-Warner/Ted Turner and Barry Diller
Attempt to Build Media Giants in Opposite Ways)." The Economist
(London), 2 September 1995.
Broadcasting Company/ Movies on Television; Murdoch,