As Turner's empire expands, he becomes expansive

July 09, 1992|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

Los Angeles -- A new daily show on CNN for model Christie Brinkley. A new program on superstation WTBS featuring news for kids. An entire new cable channel devoted exclusively to cartoons. And an enormous commitment of programming about Native Americans on all of his networks.

Ted Turner, the king of cable TV, regaled the press with descriptions of of new programming and developments in his cable empire. His holdings are now so vast the session lasted more than four hours.

And Turner, once mocked by CBS in his bid to take over that network, has become so dominant and secure in his new stature as TV industry leader that he even had some kind and surprising words for the competition at CBS, NBC and ABC.

"You know everybody that predicted that the networks were going to disappear, they're not," he said. "They're adapting to the new environment, as I knew they would. They're going to be around for a long time, I think. They've got a lot of inherent strengths and advantages."

When he was reminded that none of the networks make much money any more, he replied, "Well, you don't have to, you know. The United States as a country loses $400 billion a year, you know, but we still carry on. They don't lose that much."

It was the nicest thing anyone out here at the fall TV press preview has said about the old-line networks, which have seen their fortunes decline in direct proportion to the growth of Turner and cable the last dozen years.

Turner's kind words seemed in part to be simply a matter of his mood. He was more relaxed and conversational than he's ever been. He joked about having considered a run for president, saying his wife, Jane Fonda, told him he couldn't. "Jane was already married to one politician [Tom Hayden, a former California state representative and U.S. Senate candidate] and she said she wasn't going to be married to another one. You can't do something like that if your wife doesn't want you to."

He can afford to be generous: Turner Broadcasting is clearly in the driver's seat. CNN, now the leading player in TV news, keeps growing as the traditional network news divisions cut back. "Living in the '90s with Christie Brinkley," which debuts Sept. 14 at 10:30 a.m., is CNN's latest edition. Turner brought Brinkley to California to tell the critics how much she admires CNN and how excited she is about joining the network. CNN will also be producing the "News For Kids" newscast, to debut Sept. 14 and air Saturdays at 9:05 a.m..

Perhaps the most impressive plans, though, are those that Turner announced for his Native American project. It will include a book from Turner Publishing, a six-hour documentary on WTBS, seven original made-for-TV movies on TNT about American Indians and, finally, a 20-part series by CNN on what Turner described as "contemporary issues of the Native American." Not since the late William Paley, founder of CBS, has any American had such print and TV clout.

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