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Twists and turns make it tough to track Ted

MEMO TO: TED TURNER

FROM: PETER BART

WHILE NO ONE HAS EVER accused you of being an open book, Ted, the job of Turner-tracking these days has become increasingly demanding. Take your New York adventures of a week ago: All of us were greatly amused by your efforts to rattle Rupert’s cage, but the precise objective of all this hyperbole remained somewhat obscure. Similarly, while we empathized with your impromptu exit in the middle of your Friars Club tribute how many awards can anyone harvest in the course of a week? arguably you could have decided that the Friars were expendable before the banquet, not during it. Then there’s all the shuffling of your movie assets. New Line is being shopped this week to potential buyers, Turner Pictures is slated to be absorbed into the Warners hierarchy, and Castle Rock is also up for grabs. Only a couple of years ago, you lavished so much affection on these companies they became known as Ted’s Toys. Suddenly they’re toys in the attic. When I first met you a decade ago, you were in the midst of acquiring MGM/UA from Kirk Kerkorian and you told me in no uncertain terms that you loved the movie business and intended to make a major commitment to that studio. Somewhere in the middle of that process your passions shifted: You bought the library instead of the studio. There have been other sudden shifts along the way. Your people at TNT seem to feel that you put a production called “Strange Justice” on hold because of fears it would offend Justice Clarence Thomas at a time when the Supreme Court was deliberating over cable deregulation. Say it ain’t so Ted.

YOUR ATTITUDES TOWARD CNN also have been hard to track. Some months ago you seemed poised to implement significant changes at the all-news network in light of all the new competition. Whatever happened to those changes, Ted? CNN is still a terrific enterprise with new sports and financial offshoots, but aren’t you worried about all those newsies nipping at your ankles? Now, we realize you’ve had a lot on your mind lately, Ted. The astonishing corporate behemoth called Time Warner Turner has only recently come into existence, and there are a myriad of policy questions to be hammered out. During your award marathon last week, you chose to articulate some of your concerns in the context of vivid World War II metaphors. Before the merger you said, “I’d thought of myself as Poland caught between Germany and the USSR” After the merger, you confided: “I’d shake all night like the German children did in 1944.” German children? Well, you may be shaky one moment, but you seem pretty unyielding whenever Rupert comes up. During one banquet, you ad-libbed: “Since Murdoch’s newspapers keep saying I’m insane, doesn’t that mean that if I shoot him I’ll get off?” These are vintage Turnerisms all right, but, again, they don’t quite track. The metaphors change as quickly as the attitudes.

WHICH BRINGS US BACK to the basic question many are asking: Namely, what is your real attitude about your role in Time Warner Turner? Are you going to become Super-Suit, jousting for power in New York? Or will you be the Anti-Suit, safely ensconced at your Montana ranches? Some of your longterm associates say they still don’t know the answer to this question and, more important, that you don’t know either. That, indeed, is why Turner-tracking has become such an inscrutable task. One moment you love the movie business, the next, you’re fleeing from it. One moment you covet awards, the next you’re walking out on one. Now we realize you’ve always seen yourself as the Lone Ranger of the media landscape. Nonetheless, now that Time Warner Turner has become a reality, your constituencies are looking for clear lines, not dotted lines. They want direction, not hyperbole. They want you to stop accepting awards and start dictating policies. That is a helluva spot to be in, isn’t it?

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