Filmed by Oxford Television Co. for Channel 4, in association with Arts & Entertainment Network. Series producer, Nicolas Kent; executive producer, Andy Paterson; director, Patrick Forbes; The Mouth of the South gets a mild going-over in “The Tycoon,” the first seg of “Naked News,” a four-part look at Stateside media by U.K. minority commercial web Channel 4. Despite a few cheeky remarks by ex-staffers and observers, this wry portrait of Ted Turner and CNN — set to air next month on cabler A&E in the U.S. — won’t give the lawyers in Atlanta much to chew on.
Taking its cue from its subject matter, “The Tycoon” kicks off with a flurry of ironic soundbites from Turner and others. Ted’s formula for turning $ 2 million into $ 2 billion? “Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise,” mouths the mogul.
Turner’s cheerleaders call him “absolutely the media giant of the second half of the 20th century” and “the man who put the vision back into television.”
Others have a different perspective. “He wants to be ruler of the world,” says one.
Docu basically ping-pongs back and forth between these two viewpoints, with Turner gradually emerging from his own and others’ interviews as a likable, good ol’ boy eccentric who is dedicated to making the planet a more peaceful place and staking a major claim for CNN in the process.
Focus is squarely on the day-to-day workings of the cable net and Turner the man. There’s no mention of his other media holdings, no examination of his business methods or acumen, no discussion of CNN’s ratings fortunes and, most especially, no reference to his private life.
Between the comments by Turner and various media mavens, there’s extended footage of CNN headquarters last August as the web covered the Cuban refugee crisis and pitched for an exclusive interview with Fidel Castro. It’s entertaining but familiar fly-on-the-wall stuff, nothing to raise eyebrows.
Most of the criticisms of Turner come wrapped in compliments. Questioned about the man’s political aspirations, former White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater opines that Turner doesn’t have real rapport with people, he’s not articulate, he has trouble disciplining his mind — ergo, he’d make “a crummy politician.” But … he’s “a great mogul, a great billionaire.”
Best interview footage is with former Turner Broadcasting PR topper Bob Hope, who recalls being summoned by Turner at 5:30 one morning, asked whether he thinks Turner’s crazy and, when Hope mildly agreed, being subjected to a catalog of Turner’s unhappy family history.
It’s here that the docu comes closest to its subject, with Turner’s own growing realization that mortality is the only impediment to his power.
By fade-out, over footage from the latest Goodwill Games, viewers are left with a picture (whether true or false) of a rather lonely, slightly cranky billionaire-turned-evangelist who struck it lucky with a cable news idea and seems perpetually saddened that the rest of the world doesn’t quite match up to his own homespun ideals.
Tech credits are smart throughout, with clean cutting and careful, often ironic compositions by lensers Lawrence Gardner and Mike Thomson.
Other three segs of “Naked News” will focus on Rush Limbaugh, the New York Daily News and, in a seg called “The Anchor,” a look at the Walter Cronkite legacy.