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Network Tv's Year Of The Takeover

December 31, 1985|JAY SHARBUTT | Times Staff Writer

Ted Turner proposed buying CBS for $5.8 billion. CBS fought him and won. Capital Cities Communications proposed buying ABC for $3.5 billion and succeeded. And General Electric wooed and quickly won RCA, parent of NBC, for $6.28 billion.

Such was 1985, network television's Year of the Takeover, a year in which press baron Rupert Murdoch also played a part with his $1.4-billion purchase of Metromedia's seven television stations.

The impending GE-RCA marriage drew criticism from consumer advocate Ralph Nader, who brooded about the effect GE's ownership would have on the independence of NBC News in reporting on areas in which GE is involved, such as the defense industry.

Not to worry, NBC news and entertainment executives said after the takeover was announced in December: GE will leave the network alone.

The takeover is by no means a certainty yet. It still needs approval by government regulatory agencies, and there also could be Justice Department and congressional objections. But all that will be faced in 1986.

As for 1985, it was a fine year for NBC, now leading in prime-time ratings, but just awful for ABC, now third in the Nielsens. It wasn't fun, either, for six-season ratings champ CBS, and not just because it was second in season-to-date evening ratings as the year ended.

As 1985 began, Gen. William C. Westmoreland's $120-million libel suit against CBS News still was under way. He subsequently dropped it. But then came Turner's takeover attempt, and enough turmoil in CBS News to make Job's woes seem only the warm-up act.

In warding off Turner, CBS Inc. spent $1 billion to buy back about 21% of its stock, a move that forced it to sell some of its assets and lay off employees, including 74 at CBS News and another 40 in its records division.

At CBS News, there also was the ill-fated attempt to boost the ratings of the third-place "CBS Morning News" by installing as its co-anchor the bubbly Phyllis George, who had no news background.

The ratings stayed down and the much-criticized George quit after nine months (her co-anchor, Bill Kurtis, quit two months before she did and returned to his old job as an anchor at CBS-owned WBBM-TV in Chicago).

George's arrival and departure were only two of many notable moves at both CBS News and in ABC's entertainment and news divisions in 1985.

CBS News President Edward M. Joyce, reportedly disliked by some staffers for what they called his cold, aloof style, was ousted. He was shifted to another post at CBS Inc., and his CBS News post taken by the man he succeeded in 1983--Van Gordon Sauter.

Sylvia Chase and Geraldo Rivera parted ways with ABC News. Each had been with the "20/20" series since it began in 1978. Chase took an anchoring job in San Francisco. Rivera, whose contract wasn't renewed, said he wanted to assess his life and career.

Over in ABC's corporate towers, major shifts also occurred as the network sought ways in November to avoid the prime-time ratings cellar for the second year in a row.

The shuffle started when Anthony Thomopoulos resigned as president of the ABC Broadcast Group. A day later, Lewis H. Erlicht was demoted from president to senior vice president of ABC Entertainment. Brandon Stoddard--head of ABC Motion Pictures--was named the new president of the entertainment division.

Although this made for a lot of comings and goings at the networks, the year's swiftest hello-and-good-by was made by a civilian, Barry Bremen, a part-time hoaxer. During the Emmy Awards show in Pasadena, he boldly walked on stage and accepted an Emmy without authorization.

Led away in handcuffs, he later was charged with an infraction, "interfering with an event." Many television observers agreed that he had handily won the 1985 award for Most Notable Entrance and Exit in a Single Day.

But other, less-publicized awards also were made in 1985. They included:

--God Is My Co-Anchor Award: To Dan Rather, who, in speaking of news, told executives of CBS affiliates: "Insofar as it's humanly possible, and with God's help, we're going to report it straight."

--Here's One for You and You and You Award: To the Emmy Award industry, which in 1948 made only six awards. It now needs five separate ceremonies to give more than 150 of the coveted honors to those who have made national television what it is today.

--On Second Thought Award: To Forbes magazine, for its Dec. 16 edition that hit the stands a few days before RCA agreed to a takeover by GE. In that edition, it was written: "Today RCA is more likely to acquire than be acquired."

--Good Night and Good Luck Award: To HBO for "Murrow," a docudrama about Edward R. Murrow, the saintly CBS News correspondent. In one scene, Murrow (Daniel J. Travanti) faces CBS chief William S. Paley (Dabney Coleman) and warns him:

"This industry has got to be a helluva lot more than an industry. It has to hold up a mirror to the nation, to the world. That mirror must have no curves. And it must be held with a steady hand."

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