Imagine If... | Turner Bought CBS

Originally Posted on 07/10/2002 by Jeff Harris

Actual Events: In the mid-80s, Ted Turner wanted to buy a broadcast network. Though he maintained that he wanted to buy GE's NBC, he publicly pursued CBS until he realized that he couldn't buy the channel and created his own network, Turner Network Television, instead.

It could have been the biggest coup of Ted Turner's entertainment lifeIt was Ted Turner's biggest triumph.

In 1986, Turner Broadcasting System completed its acquisition of CBS, Inc., merging the two companies as CBS-Turner Entertainment. The CBS News and Cable News Network units were merged into one, with CNN becoming . . . well, CNN, the CBS News Network. With a partnership with CBS, TBS actually gained viewership and a new corporate alliance in the world of entertainment. CBS Sports, formed from the merger of the Turner Sports and CBS Sports units, acquired broadcast rights to NFL and NBA games, the first time a cable and broadcast group jointly gained rights to sports broadcasts.

By 1993, CBS-Turner was actually beneficial for both companies, but they needed content companies. After buying out the partners in Tri-Star (the original Tri-Star ownership was CBS, HBO, and Columbia Pictures), CBS-Turner also bought a significant stake in Columbia Pictures Entertainment from Coca-Cola, averting a complete takeover from Sony, merging the film company with Turner's earlier studio purchases Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Hanna-Barbera and a pair of independent studios. Castle Rock Entertainment and New Line Cinema, calling the merged filmed entertainment units MGM Columbia. With these libraries, CBS-Turner launched three networks: Cartoon Network (focused on animation), The MGM Movie Network, and The Screen Gems Channel (focused on classic sitcoms, dramas, and television movies).

Although he regretted not getting NBC, the success Ted Turner had with CBS only grew as the decades continued, and CBS-Turner has become his strongest legacy.

Back to reality: Ted Turner has become a man of many regrets in the decade since he sold Turner Entertainment to Time Warner. He became a man dethroned and basically a figurehead by the time he left the company. To this day, Turner still regrets not buying CBS. He also regrets the role he played in the acquisition of Time Warner by America OnLine by signing on and the events that led to a period that nearly destroyed the unit he created led by a younger critic of his. He left Time Warner though he still has a significant stake in the company. In the meantime, he waits in the background, wondering what could have been and searching for a new beginning.

Meanwhile, CBS was purchased by Viacom, ironically a unit spunoff from CBS, in the mid-90s and reemerged as a shining diamond in the Viacom family, once again regaining the number one slot on television. In 2006, CBS was spun off of Viacom into CBS, Inc., which also included the UPN network (which merged with competing network The WB to become The CW in September 2006), Paramount Television, the Showtime movie networks, and Infinity Radio, among other units. Though it's still owned by Viacom owner Sumner Redstone, it may be sold to another party down the line.

And even in 2010, CBS and the Turner networks are flirting with each other. CBS and CNN have been talking about merging their news operations while publicly sharing news resources. Starting in 2011, CBS and TBS will be sharing the NCAA Final Four Tournament, alternating the final two rounds every year. So, while Mr. Turner's dream of owning CBS may never come true, it is funny seeing the two having fun without him

Shall we go on?


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