King Ted's still mad as hell

CNN is 15 this week so its owner Ted Turner is approachable. Daniel Jeffries listens to plans for world domination

RE "Ted" Turner is 57 this year. He always said he'd be dead by the age of 50. He expected death to be violent, from an assassin's bullet. He once told his biographer, Porter Bibb, that he'd worked out what to say to his killer: "Thanks for not coming earlier."

There's still fire in his eyes. His chiselled jaw is set forward like a challenge. Today, he's alarmed about the media business: "The industry is consolidating. I don't like it. It's an absolute tragedy. We are going to end up with four or five mega companies that control everything we see on radio and television - particularly television. It's very distressing to me."

Turner can't be thinking of the man who heads Turner Broadcasting Systems, which owns CNN. CNN is celebrating it's 15th birthday this week. Where ever you go in America there's CNN. In a bar, in offices, in airports. Everybody recognises the red logo, glowing in the corner of the screen. But that's just the start. Turner's media properties are part of an elite league. Turner is modest: he doesn't mention the eight US cable networks, the five international networks, the three studios, the world's largest film library and the two major sports teams.

Ted Turner is driven. Some say by his father's suicide at the age of 53 after a long battle with manic depression. Others say it's a different legacy - he too suffers from the same complaint: it was his second wife who persuaded him to take a course of lithium in 1986.

But Turner's in no mood for such talk, or questions aboutspouse number three: Jane Fonda, aka, Hanoi Jane, the star who demonstrated against the Vietnam War (a strange partner for a confessed "Conservative liberal"), the one whose photos have taken the place of the gun his father shot himself with in his desk drawer.

Turner wants to talk about the information highway and about how he who can sell us entertainment will be king. Ted Turner enjoys being king. And it's CNN's enormous power which had given him the keys to the throne room. "The ratings at CNN are through the roof," Turner says. "We had a bad first quarter last year and boy did everybody make a big deal about it. We don't have a lot of friends in the media, but that's OK."

"Go live to Sarajevo next," shouts Mike Klein. It's 10.42 on a Friday morning, just another day at CNN Centre in Atlanta. Nato planes are bombing Serb targets in Pale and senior producer Klein is running the CNN control room. "Tell Blitzer in Washington we'll come to him in two, after Sarajevo."

Klein looks at the off-air monitors. A correspondent at the State Department, Wolf Blitzer on the White House lawn, Barbara Schmansky in Sarajevo on a satellite feed. Another monitor has the three US networks. Two have chat shows, one flaunts a soap opera. Beside them, CNN looks like grown- up TV.

"Five minutes," says Klein, the clock ticking towards 11am. "Let's get back to Sarajevo." He clicks on the anchor intercom. "Ask Schmansky if there's any fear of retaliation."

Right now heads of state are waiting for the answer. President Clinton has CNN in his bathroom. Boris Yeltsin has it in his office. Ask the former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger about CNN: "It's influence is astounding." Kissinger sits on the board of CBS, a company that's been hurt by CNN's reach. "If something happens, like this air strike, I'll get calls. The Chinese foreign minister, the French President. Often they say, 'Did you see, on CNN ...' They are the global town crier."

But isn't Turner a man who makes money out of disasters? After all, CNN really got moving when it was the only network to carry live pictures of the space shuttle Challenger as it exploded.

"It's the truth," says Turner. "Our ratings are higher whenever there's a disaster. But I would far rather have lower ratings and lower profits and live in a prosperous happy, kind and loving world."

Last year an article in New Republic argued that CNN was giving people unfiltered information too quickly. "What a jerk!" Turner snaps. "We are in an electronic world now. I think we are better than most. We're less showbiz."

That's been a criticism of CNN: too plain vanilla. Critics say that Turner chooses anchors who won't offend middle America. Turner rejects this. "I think of all the major television operations we are the most credible. But we still sensationalise occasionally ... we're not perfect."

Last year the news division of Turner Broadcasting System Inc had revenues of almost $670m, a 12 per cent increase on 1993. In the first quarter of this year, news division revenues are up by $32m. Most of that increase came from a 28 per cent rise in domestic advertising revenues. No other US network can boast such rapid growth. Some think Turner may one day sell CNN to fund his other projects.

"Sure, Ted might one day sell CNN," says Peter Vesey who runs CNN International, now playing to 210 countries worldwide. "But last year we spent over $450m and the bulk of that went to newsgathering. We know the criticism that CNN is too American to be a global network. Ted will spend the money to move newsgathering away from Atlanta."

When Turner started CNN he nearly went bankrupt. When he bought MGM studios in 1986 the debt he incurred became too large. He sold most of the acquisition, retaining just the library. His financial misadventures forced him into the arms of John Malone's TCI and Time Warner, America's two largest cable operators. They both own about 20 per cent each of Turner Broadcasting.

Last year Turner believed he was days away from buying NBC for around $5bn. Until Time Warner vetoed the deal. Turner was furious, threatening to sell TBS to Rupert Murdoch to spite Time Warner.

Turner is still angry. "That window of opportunity that existed a year ago, isn't open to us now," he told the National Press Club last year. "I can't even talk to GE [General Electric, which owns NBC]. They won't even talk to me until I get clearance from my handlers."

But even with the Time Warner leash, TBS is movingfast. Turner's movie studios, New Line and Castle Rock, are booming. The studios now have an 8 per cent share of the US movie business, which puts them up there with Sony. New Line produced The Mask, which last summer made $200m. Turner watchers say the movie business is his next baby. But first he has to stop everybody else's plans for global domination.

"I want to be able to play at the big game. All my life I've been on the outside," he says.

Turner still feels excluded, even with invitations to the White House. Without an over-the-air network such as NBC, TBS was not allowed to bid for the Olympics - which next year will take place in Atlanta.

"Remember the guy in that movie who told people to stick their heads out and yell, 'I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more'?"

Some who know him say that's how Turner's been feeling for years. Angry. So far it's produced one of the world's most powerful media companies. That's productive anger, by anybody's standards.

Suggested Topics
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Data Scientist

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A data analytics are currently looking t...

Web / Digital Analyst - SiteCatalyst or Google Analytics

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Campaign Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency is currently ...

BI Analyst

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency in Central Lo...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little