No matter one’s personal opinions regarding Ted “The Mouth of the South” Turner, you can’t deny the impact he has had on the media/broadcasting world and the world in general. (All references to his marriage to Jane Fonda and other marriages purposely omitted.)
The Early Years
Born Robert Edward “Ted” Turner in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1938 where his father ran a billboard business. When he was nine, the family moved to what would become his adopted home, Atlanta, Georgia and his father continued in the billboard business. He was packed off to a semi military school (McCallie School) in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It was there that he acquired his nickname of “Terrible Ted” and his eccentric nature began to come to the forefront. (We’ll get to some of this later). His hobbies included taxidermy and a penchant for growing grass (not the kind you're thinking) in his dorm room. While he was still in his teens and against his father’s wishes, he enrolled in Brown University where his hobbies included yachting and debating. He never got his degree though, He was asked to leave the university after Brown officials found him with a woman in his room.
When Ted was 24, his father, realizing his business was buried in a mountain of debt and would soon fail, committed suicide by shooting himself. Ted originally planned to put the business up for sale but decided to try and run it himself. Success didn’t come overnight and slowly but surely he brought the business from the brink of bankruptcy to
show a profit.
The Cable Years
The year is 1970 and Ted is growing restless. He decided to take over a struggling UHF channel in Atlanta. Channel 17 was mired in last place and was a bare bones operation that basically provided the community with the minimum amount of programming and news required by the FCC in order to remain on the air. It produced no original programming and chose to rerun old show and black and white movies of inferior quality. By the time 1975 rolled around, Turner had changed the station into TBS and took it national. Advertising revenues skyrocketed.
In 1980 he gave birth to what many considered the most comprehensive news organization in the United States, CNN. Its format was 24 hours of news and was the first national cable network.
In 1988, Turner launched yet another station, TNT (Turner Network Television). By the time 1998 came, TNT was viewed by over 61 million homes in America.
In 1996 Turner teamed up with Time Warner and was named Vice Chairman. This gave him control over such channels as E! Entertainment and Comedy Central.
Along the way, not everything was a bed of roses. He tried and failed to take over CBS in a hostile attempt and probably overpaid (1.6 billion) for the MGM film library. His plan to “colorize” old movies was not received well.
Always an avid baseball fan, Turner bought the Atlanta Braves in 1976 for $11 million and saved the team from re-locating. After some early struggles, the team rebounded and has been a consistent contender and have won a couple of World Series. He also dabbled in basketball and purchased the Atlanta Hawks franchise.
Turner was also the brainchild behind the creation of the Goodwill Games. Started in 1984 at the height of tensions between the U.S and the U.S.S.R., Turner felt that the friendly competition between the two nations might help bring about an end to the Cold War.
His experience in yachting came to the forefront when he captained and defended the America’s Cup in 1977 aboard his ship Courageous. His eccentric side showed itself when he showed up to accept the trophy drunk out of his gourd. Since then he has won the Yachtsman of the Year award four times.
Always one to put his money where his mouth is, Turner made donations exceeding $200 million in 1994 alone. In 1997 he made what can be considered his grandest gesture when he donated $1 billion (yup, 1 billion!) dollars to a foundation to help support the United Nations. Presently, his foundation helps support over 400 charitable and aid giving organizations.
Naturally, all of this good will didn’t come without some degree of controversy. He has called upon other members of the rich to give back more to society. In 1996
, in a New York Times
interview, he had this to say about his fellow wealthy members of society and their failure to come to the forefront on charitable matters.
”All the money is in the hands of these few rich people and none of them give any money away. It’s dangerous for them and the country. We may have another French Revolution and they’ll be another Madame DeFarge knitting and watching them come in little oxcarts down to the town square and BOOM! Off with their heads!”
Did You Know?
I mentioned earlier that Ted has a tendency to be somewhat eccentric. Besides some of the events heretofore documented in this w/u, did you know…
That in 1996, he was the largest single land owner in the United States? The properties then mostly consisted of ranches and other farming concerns
That early in his career, Ted was fond of dressing up in full Confederate regalia, sword included, when attending corporate board meeting to discuss strategy?
That he challenged fellow media mogul Rupert Murdoch to a nationally televised boxing match to be staged in Las Vegas?