U.S. Media Mogul

Ted Turner is one of the entrepreneurs responsible for re-thinking the way we use television, especially cable television, in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. But Ted Turner is known, loved and hated as much for his unique personal style as for any particular accomplishment. He is a flamboyantly Southern businessman in industries normally run from New York and Los Angeles. Turner's penchant for wringing every possible use from his corporations' possessions has enabled him to establish a corporate empire with holdings in virtually every area of the entertainment industry. In 1995, in what could be the most significant personal and financial deal of his career, he agreed to merge his holdings with those of international media conglomerat, Time-Warner. Turner linked his corporation to an unusally powerful managing partner.

Turner's career in broadcasting began in 1970, when his Turner Communications, a family billboard company, merged with Rice Broadcasting and gained control of WGTC, Channel 17 in Atlanta. WTCG succeeded under Turner's ownership losing $900,000 before the merger in 1970, to making $1.8 million revenue in 1973). Turner made WTCG cable's first "superstation," broadcast by satellite to cable households around the United States. Renamed WTBS (for Turner Broadcasting System) in 1979, the station remained one of the most popular basic cable options through the growth in cable households in the 1980s. The program schedule featured a mixture of movies and series produced by Turner subsidiaries, reruns from Turner's vast entertainment libraries, broadcasts of Turner-owned Atlanta Braves' and Hawks' games, and shows related to Turner's interest in the environment, such as explorer Jacques Cousteau's Undersea Adventures and Audobon Society specials.

Turner's second great innovation in cable, the Cable News Network (CNN), was launched in 1980. Turner's personal involvement in CNN appeared to handicap the network from the start, since WTBS's jokey late-night news program and CNN's shoestring budget suggested that Turner would not commit to serious journalism. But CNN's 24-hour news programming gained viewer loyalty and industry respect as it has challenged--and often surpassed--the major networks' authority in reporting breaking events, such as the Persian Gulf War. Turner, as well, refashioned himself as a global newsman as CNN expanded into new markets (by 1995, it reached 156 million subscribers in 140 countries around the world), banning the word "foreign" from CNN newscasts in favor of "international." And following Turner's philosophy of finding as many outlets for his products as possible, the CNN franchise has grown to include CNN International, CNN Headline News, CNN Radio and CNN Airport Network, as well as a variety of computer on-line services.

Turner's holdings are not limited to cable networks, although he also owns Turner Network Television, Turner Classic Movies, Sportsouth and The Cartoon Network. His Turner Entertainment Company manages one of the world's largest film libraries, including the MGM library, licensing broadcast and cable stations to show Hollywood classics such as Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz and Citizen Kane. Production companies include New Line Cinema, Castle Rock Entertainment (which produced Seinfeld), Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, and Turner Pictures Worldwide--all programming sources for his cable and broadcast outlets. His Turner Home Entertainment oversees video release of titles from the Turner library, as well as a publishing house, educational services and a division devoted to exploring ways to bring Turner titles on-line. And throughout his career, Turner has endeavored to purchase one of the three major networks, targeting each for takeover as it has become financially vulnerable.

But a list of Turner's possessions cannot begin to capture the essence of the personality which has made him one of the entertainment industry's most recognizable figures. He earned the nickname "Captain Outrageous" during his yachting days (capturing America's Cup in 1977 and losing it in 1980), but his reputation for eccentric behavior has not been limited to the sporting arena. When his efforts to "colorize" films from his extensive black and white movie library--thereby broadening the films' appeal to audiences who prefer color--raised the hackles of film lovers and prompted congressional hearings on the authorship and ownership of cinematic texts, Turner threatened to add color to Citizen Kane, the 1941 Orson Welles classic which has been lauded as the greatest film ever made. (Although Turner owns the film, he didn't.)

Turner has actively sought publicity both for himself and for a number of causes he supports such as the environmental movement, world peace, especially when they have been associated with Turner's media or sports holdings. Two example are WTBS's Captain Planet environmental cartoon or the Goodwill Games between United States and Soviet athletes to which Turner has broadcasting rights. And with his third wife, former actress, fitness guru, political activist and multimedia mogul Jane Fonda, Turner has added support for Native American causes (including a series of original films on TNT) to atone for his formerly racist promotions of the Atlanta Braves. Long accustomed to his role as "captain of his own fate," it remains to be seen how he will arrange a position in a corporate structure he arranged for but does not control.

-Susan McLeland

Ted Turner
Photo courtesy of Turner Broadcasting System, Inc.

TED (ROBERT EDWARD) TURNER. Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.A., 19 November 1938. Educated at Brown University. Married: 1) Judy Nye, 1960 (divorced); one daughter and one son; 2) Jane Shirley Smith, 1965 (divorced, 1988); one daughter and two sons; 3) Jane Fonda, 1991. Account executive, Turner Advertising Company, Atlanta, Georgia, 1961-63, president and chief operating officer, 1963-70; president and chair of the board, Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., Atlanta, since 1970; chair of the board, Better World Society, Washington, 1985-90. Honorary degrees: D.Sc. in Commerce, Drexel University, 1982; LL.D., Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama, 1982, Atlanta University, 1984; D. Entrepreneurial Sciences, Central New England College of Technology, 1983; D. in Public Administration, Massachusetts Maritime Academy, 1984; D. in Business Administration, University of Charleston, 1985. Board of directors: Martin Luther King Center, Atlanta. Recipient: America's Cup in his yacht Courageous, 1977; named yachtsman of the year four times. Outstanding Entrepreneur of the Year Award, Sales Marketing and Management Magazine, 1979; National Cable Television Association President's Award, 1979 and 1989; National News Media Award, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), 1981; Special Award, Edinburgh International Television Festival, Scotland, 1982; Media Awareness Award, United Vietnam Veterans Organization, 1983; Board of Governors Award, Atlanta chapter, NATAS, 1982; Special Olympics Award, Special Olympics Committee, 1983; World Telecommunications Pioneer Award, New York State Broadcasters Association, 1984; Golden Plate Award, American Academy of Achievement, 1984; Silver Satellite Award, American Women in Radio and Television; Lifetime Achievement Award, New York International Film and Television Festival, 1984; Tree of Life Award, Jewish National Fund, 1985; Golden Ace Award, National Cable Television Academy, 1987; Sol Taishoff Award, National Press Foundation, 1988; Chairman's Award, Cable Advertising Bureau, 1988; Directorate Award NATAS, 1989; Paul White Award, Radio and Television News Directors Association Award, 1989; numerous other awards.


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See also Cable Networks; Cable News Network; Colorization; Superstation; Time Warner; Turner Broadcasting System; United States: Cable Television