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
News
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
people
Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

Sport
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
News
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
News
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister
news

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
News
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)
news

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
Northern soul mecca the Wigan Casino
fashionGone are the punks, casuals, new romantics, ravers, skaters, crusties. Now all kids look the same
Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

News
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Programmatic Business Development Manager

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: As the Programmatic Business Dev...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Trainee Recruitment C...

European Retail Sales Manager, Consumer Products

competitive + bonus + benefits: Sauce Recruitment: My client is looking for an...

Sales Director, Media Sponsorship

£60000 - £65000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A globally successful media and ...

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past