BY STACI D. KRAMER AND K. C. NEEL If AOL Time Warner were named for the men of vision who created the companies that provide its very foundation, the company would be called Warner Grunwald Turner. When Ted Turner last week submitted his resignation from the post of vice chairman of AOL TW, which is effective in May, the news almost eclipsed the breathtaking $45 billion write-down the company took. Press reports described a board of directors that alternately viewed Turner with awe and rolling eyeballs. Lost in the coverage was the poignancy of the moment — Ted was walking away from media properties that would probably not exist had he not invented them, properties that, in the scheme of things, really formed an industry. Those properties are also woven into our very culture, a claim few people now running AOL can make. At least one of Turner Broadcasting Systems’ cable networks reaches every cable household in the United States and millions more people around the world. TBS and TNT routinely seed lists of the most-watched shows on cable. CNN, thought by many to be one of Ted Turner’s most unlikely notions, turned the entire news genre on its ear. A Turner sports franchise plays nearly every day of the year. “Turner’s greatest achievement in the cable industry has to be his ability to transpose traditional programming and channels…by delivering them in a different way and in different packages,” says Marc Nathanson, founder of Falcon Communications and now vice chairman of Charter Communications. “People tend to forget he had this mediocre UHF station that he owned when he came to me in 1973. He wanted to deliver that station via microwave to all our cable customers in Mississippi and Alabama. It changed everything for us.” To cable veteran Glenn Jones, chairman of Jones International, Turner has been “a great asset to us all.” “He’s truly unique and his involvement in the cable industry brought a lot of excitement,” says Jones. “He could say things no one else could say because he was Ted and he was the only one who could get away with saying the things he said. He had a unique way of saying things that sometimes sounded bizarre, but underneath, it was always accurate.” Betty Cohen, who piloted the Cartoon Network, says Turner “will have a lasting impact, because he has profoundly transformed the landscape, whether you’re talking about the business fundamentals of broadcasting and cable; or the way we experience the unfolding of world events; or the manner in which the world’s most serious problems get addressed.” Still, the front-page coverage of his pending resignation as vice chairman of AOL TW belies his actual involvement with the company in recent years. Each merger moved him further away from the businesses he built. What he lost in control he gained in financial resources, allowing him to make gestures such as donating a billion dollars to the United Nations. That’s more than some member countries will ever have in their budgets. When AOL lost 10% of its value overnight last Thursday, after the double whammy of Turner’s resignation and a massive write-down, Turner’s fortune dipped with it. He owns about 3% of AOL’s outstanding stock — nearly 132.5 million shares. A year ago those shares would have been worth nearly $3.5 billion. When the market opened last Friday they were worth less than half that. The drop in his fortune — worth more than $7 billion at its height — has been as dramatic as the man himself. Author Ken Auletta spoke with Turner early last week. He said Turner spoke of being tired but gave no inkling that he was about to resign. “I don’t think this moment is any more painful than the last several years have been,” says Auletta. “He’s had an empty job, a title and no responsibility — and he’s been dispirited about that for a long time.” As for talk of Turner buying CNN or the Braves, he simply hasn’t the liquidity to shop for big-ticket items just now. He is pulling back in other ways as well, moving his residence from Atlanta, where most of the properties he created are based, to Florida, where the tax situation is more favorable. What next? No one, possibly not even Turner, knows. “I’d have to say he’s not done his greatest thing yet,” Nathanson offers. “Maybe he’ll bring peace to the Middle East. He could do it if he put his mind to it.”

The Daily


Short Takes

Commentary by Steve Effros There was a fleeting moment when I thought that maybe I could cut down on the number of columns I write each month as we approach the new year. What the heck, so many of the issues I

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