Ted Turner has taken on many roles in his colorful career - maverick, sportsman, and statesman among them. But if Time Warner acquires his media empire, he’ll take on a new and unfamiliar one: employee.
Under a merger, Atlanta-based Turner Broadcasting System Inc. would become a wholly owned subsidiary of Time Warner. Turner, 56, now chairman and president of TBS, would become a vice chairman of Time Warner, sources said.
Could this brash man - who made a fortune televising reruns such as “The Andy Griffith Show”, gave the world Cable News Network and sought to buy CBS before buying networks was cool - find happiness answering to a boss?
Not likely, say some Turner watchers.
“I don’t see Ted Turner being interested in sitting through four-hour board meetings at Time Warner in New York,” said John Reidy, a media industry analyst at Smith Barney who follows TBS.
If the stock-swap deal goes through, Turner could play a key role in completing the merger and then spend his time on issues, such as the environment and population, that he has pursued with his actress wife Jane Fonda, Reidy suggested.
“He can survive and have an interesting life without TBS,” Reidy said.
However, former TBS executive Reese Schonfeld said Turner, who stands to be the largest single shareholder in the merged company, would hardly be relegated to the mailroom.
“I don’t know if you would define this position as an employee,” Schonfeld said. “People who are billionaires are not employees. They don’t think like employees.”
Turner in recent years has been frustrated by the cable operators who wield great power on the TBS board of directors, Schonfeld noted. Turner may view a high-ranking role at the much larger Time Warner as a vehicle to do more than he is able to do now, he said.
“Ted could have all sorts of plans,” said Schonfeld, who headed CNN from 1979-82 and now is president of cable television’s Food Network. “I bet if he ran the Turner division at Time Warner, he might have more flexibility.”