Would Ted Turner, if he gained control of CBS, turn it into the "Leave It to Beaver" network?
Though fans of that old situation comedy might embrace the idea, Hollywood's television community Thursday reacted grimly to the notion of imbalanced programming that they fear Turner might bring to the No. 1-rated TV network. In making his bid for CBS, Turner said one of his primary goals will be to improve the "quality, objectivity and diversity" of its programming.
"It would be a much different CBS," said Lee Rich, president of Culver City-based Lorimar, a major producer of programs for CBS. Rich noted that Turner has often stated that he hates Lorimar's "Dallas" but also has said he loved "The Waltons," an earlier Lorimar show that fit Turner's wholesome preferences. But you need both types of shows "to have a well-balanced programming lineup," Rich said.
At Embassy TV, which produces shows mostly for NBC but also for CBS, President Glenn Padnick said that, in a speech by Turner he attended two years ago, "he quite clearly said that he wanted to go back to the days of 'Leave It to Beaver' and 'Father Knows Best' as the staple of TV programs. With all respect to those shows, there are many other things I think television can and should be doing besides just that."
Turner's Cable News Network has given time to such topics as the overpopulation problem, the nuclear issue and unemployment.
But on WTBS, his Atlanta-based, satellite-and-cable-disseminated "super station," the viewing schedule is filled with old movies, network reruns and programs such as "Agriculture USA," the music video show "Night Tracks" and "The Jimmy Swaggart Show."
Padnick pointed to a first-run WTBS situation comedy, "Down to Earth," as an example of Turner's "primarily children-oriented, unsophisticated programming." "If that's what he thinks all television should be, I'm not looking forward to that day (when Turner might run a network)."
In a 1983 interview published in Playboy magazine, Turner stated his vehement dislike not only of "Dallas" but also such '70s and '80s series as "Charlie's Angels" and "Dukes of Hazzard."
"The networks are poisoning our nation with shows like that," he said.
But many television industry leaders question what Turner would actually do, as opposed to what he says.
Turner did, for example, air an original soap-style show called "The Catlins" on WTBS, and in interviews he defended it on the grounds that he "had to make some commercial sacrifices."
"Everybody's concerned about his mercurial ways," said one prominent producer who asked not to be identified. "You worry about what his aims are. He's this kind of fellow who I feel would enjoy more the challenge of acquiring CBS than the actual aspect of running it."
The seeming contradiction--some producers criticizing a Turner-built squeaky-cleanness and others decrying his hypocrisy in violating that preference--indicates the biggest fear about a turner takeover: the uncertainty.
"I would not look forward to having to suddenly deal with unknown personalities," said Philip DeGuere, who is preparing a revival of "The Twilight Zone" series for CBS Productions.
Most Hollywood sources indicated that they are not losing sleep over the Turner bid.
"It's great press and it's something that sells newspapers, but if it ever did go through I'd have to take a look at what's happening in this country," said Fred Silverman, an independent producer who was CBS programming chief when he left the network in 1975.
But Daniel Schorr, the former CBS newsman who was fired from CNN when he insisted on editorial freedom, had this to say about Turner and CBS: "There are two points to remember. One, I'm told, by people better informed than I, is that it's impossible. Number two, everything else he has done has been thought impossible."