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Filling Wyman's Post at CBS Seen as No Easy Task : New Chairman Must Cut Costs, Raise Morale--and Deal With Tisch and Paley

September 16, 1986|PAUL RICHTER | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — CBS' directors face no easy task in their search to replace ousted Chief Executive Thomas H. Wyman, for they must find a candidate who can not only cut costs, raise morale and attract new talent--but who is also willing to take the job.

That last qualification may be a stumper, for industry officials and securities analysts say that while the top post at CBS was always tough, it's been getting tougher all the time. The new chief executive must restore the broadcaster's primacy and also get along with the most demanding of bosses, Laurence A. Tisch, acting CBS chief executive and the company's largest shareholder, and William S. Paley, CBS' acting chairman and founder.

Tisch and Paley took those posts last Wednesday, after Wyman was ousted in a dramatic power play at the board's regularly scheduled meeting. The same evening, the board formed a committee of directors to find a successor to Wyman.

"There's a lot of chance to be a hero in that big job, sure, but there's also a chance to be a bum," said Michael Fuchs, chairman of Time Inc.'s HBO pay-TV subsidiary. "Whatever you do, you'll have a couple of supersonic aircraft--Bill Paley and Larry Tisch--circling around overhead, watching."

Added a securities analyst, who asked to remain unidentified: "That place is the lion's den right now, and not every qualified CEO wants to play Daniel."

Of the three names that have been most prominently mentioned for the job, two candidates have already said they are not interested. They are Robert Daly, chairman of Warner Bros. Pictures who led CBS to top ratings in the late 1970s, and Michael D. Eisner, who is chairman and chief executive of Walt Disney Co. and was a programming whiz at the ABC network in the mid-1970s.

Through a spokesman, Daly repeated Monday that he would not be interested in the post and that he is "very happy" at the studio. When he left CBS in 1980 after 25 years, Daly said he and his family did not want to live in New York any longer, a requirement for taking the network's top job.

An entertainment industry official said that while the CBS post is probably more prestigious and more visible than the posts that Daly and Eisner currently hold at their companies, "to many people, that kind of visibility can be a drawback."

Gannett Executive

The ouster of Wyman came amid an avalanche of news coverage, and CBS officials now refer to their corporation--with a mixture of pride and vexation--as the most closely watched company in America.

A third much-mentioned candidate for the post, Douglas McCorkindale, vice chairman of Gannett Co., declined Monday to rule himself out as a possibility for the CBS job.

"I just laugh when I hear this, since nobody's been in touch with me at all," said McCorkindale, who has a reputation as a skilled financial man. He worked closely with CBS officials last year when CBS and Gannett briefly contemplated a merger and say he "knows and respects the people at CBS as a great bunch."

Asked if he would rule out any such offer, McCorkindale said he could not comment.

At their first press conference since taking their new posts, Tisch and Paley said Monday that the chief executive's job will probably go to someone with an entertainment industry background. CBS' programming has slipped to second in the ratings, and the company receives 58% of its revenue from broadcast advertising.

Temporary Positions

"The odds favor an entertainment person," said Tisch, who met with reporters in the office he moved into last week at CBS headquarters in Manhattan. He added, however, that "you don't want to foreclose any options. . . . There may be somebody out in left field who sweeps you off your feet."

Asked if he would accept the top post permanently, Tisch said: "In life I've never ruled anything out altogether. But don't rule it in, because it's out." Tisch and Paley have both previously insisted that their current assignments are temporary.

CBS' top job has been considered difficult in part because of Paley's reputation as a man who was reluctant to give up power and who had been largely responsible for the departure of four chief executives in eight years.

Tisch also said he hoped that there would be no more further layoffs at CBS and pledged that he and Paley want to keep other members of the top management team. He pledged that Gene F. Jankowski, president of CBS Broadcast Group, would not be fired if CBS' fall prime-time lineup proves to be a dud.

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