SAN FRANCISCO — Television entrepreneur Ted Turner had an ethereal presence at the CBS affiliates convention here this week--and station owners and managers said they hope that that is the closest he will ever get to appearing before them as head of the network.
"He's on everybody's mind," said Bruce Miller of Florence, S.C., station manager of CBS affiliate WBTW.
Indeed, the affiliates took their official stand right at the outset of the three-day convention, which closed Wednesday night at the Fairmont Hotel. Their advisory board unanimously agreed to file comments with the Federal Communications Commission urging denial of Turner's petition.
But for Miller, as with many of his fellow managers, concerns about Turner took a back seat to the new prime-time lineup and the network's extensive on-air promotional campaign, all designed to keep CBS No. 1. "I've only been station manager for a year; I have a lot more pressing things to think about (than Ted Turner)," Miller said.
In short, Turner's attempt to take over CBS is not being ignored--but it is not being taken very seriously either.
"CBS is strong in its management, in entertainment and in news," said Duane Harm of KWTV in Oklahoma City. "Turner has no record of being able to deliver that, and I would think he would be a detriment to CBS.
"I haven't heard anyone with anything positive to say about Ted Turner," Harm added.
The only hint of neutrality among station executives queried came from Barry Ackerly of Ackerly Communications in Seattle, who refused to comment, saying "I don't want to say anything about Teddy."
More commonly heard were comments such as those from Clara McLaughlin, the first black woman owner of a TV station (KLMG in Longview, Tex.), who said she didn't think Turner could match the quality programming that the affiliates are provided by CBS.
"Especially people like myself, being a minority owner, we can't afford to have bad quality," she said.
McLaughlin questioned whether Turner could generate quality even if he wanted to, as financially strapped as the company would be under his no-cash takeover plan.
"You have to have more money than it takes for your debt service" to continue the network's efforts, she said. "I know that better than most people," added McLaughlin, who is relying heavily on bank loans to build three new stations in under-serviced communities in east Texas.
CBS, meanwhile, is doing little to directly address the issue. The network is restrained by Securities and Exchange Commission rulings from commenting publicly on Turner's takeover attempt.
The affiliates were given synopses of the financial implications of Turner's proposal; CBS Broadcast Group president Gene F. Jankowski alluded to takeover threats when he spoke of CBS' "secret weapon" of character, tradition and dignity.
But other than that, "this is business as usual for us," said CBS Entertainment president B. Donald (Bud) Grant.
The same holds true for the affiliates, who, in a closed question-and-answer session, only once brought up Turner's name, and then only for the tongue-in-cheek question, "How does Moody's rate Ted Turner's bonds?" (Answer from a CBS official: "Bonds have to have value to have a rating.")
Still, for CBS, "business as usual"--which means a convention of station owners pleased with the status quo--may fit right into the network's strategy to fight Turner.
The implicit message to CBS stockholders, said John Bauer, an analyst with Oppenheimer & Co., the New York brokerage firm, is that affiliates might desert the network under less capable hands.
That is a message that may have to be repeated more than once if CBS management is to remain in place. Bauer and other investment analysts who were here at CBS' invitation said that even if Ted Turner's attempt to control the network fails, as they expect it to, his actions have set CBS stock "in play." Typical Wall Street scenarios suggest that other takeover attempts may follow.
"There are people out there who are more dangerous than Ted Turner, with a lot more firepower," Bauer said.