Three Blind Mice: How the TV Networks Lost Their Way
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What happened to network television in the 1980s? How did CBS, NBC, and ABC lose a third of their audience and more than half of their annual profits?
Ken Auletta, author of Greed and Glory on Wall Street, tells the gripping story of the decline of the networks in this epically scaled work of journalism. He chronicles the takeovers and executive coups that turned ABC and NBC into assets of two mega-corporations and CBS into the fiefdom of one man, Larry Tisch, whose obsession with the bottom line could be both bracing and appalling.
Auletta takes us inside the CBS newsroom on the night that Dan Rather went off-camera for six deadly minutes; into the screening rooms where NBC programming wunderkind Brandon Tartikoff watched two of his brightest prospects for new series thud disastrously to earth; and into the boardrooms where the three networks were trying to decide whether television is a public trust or a cash cow.
Rich in anecdote and gossip, scalpel-sharp in its perceptions, Three Blind Mice chronicles a revolution in American business and popular culture, one that is changing the world on both sides of the television screen.
games—Jake Keever had developed a foundation of solid relationships. Nevertheless, he was nervous each summer as the upfront market approached—“the Super Bowl for Sales,” he called it. This is where decisions are made that determine winning or losing seasons. The network has to decide: How much to sell? At what price? At what guaranteed audience? The network and the advertiser are playing for huge stakes. Think of the network as a supermarket, its shelves stocked with inventory. Sell 90 percent
what Wright later complained to Bud Rukeyser was a “show and tell.” Wright interrupted, saying: I want to get into issues. You, Marty Ryan. Are you happy with Maria Shriver? Or would you rather have Deborah Norville hosting Sunday Today? Wright tried to be provocative, noting, as had Jack Welch, that he found Maria Shriver “shrill” and Boyd Matson like “white bread.” Garrick Utley, he said, was “black coffee.” Larry Grossman saw Wright’s lips moving but heard Jack Welch. News producers were
adjusting to the new order, only NBC would provide anything like the spectacle of News president Larry Grossman’s murder—or was it suicide? Of the three networks, NBC was the most aggressive about changing the old culture, about seeking deals or alliances to yield fresh revenues. Like ABC, NBC envisioned itself as a worldwide communications colossus. CBS headed in a different direction, shedding its varied communications assets to concentrate on broadcasting. Nevertheless, for the first time
recognition of the good job NBC News had done in snaring the Gorbachev interview and the debate among the presidential contenders. He wanted Welch to make a statement extolling NBC News. “I have no problem with that,” Welch responded. “I’ll be honest, I did until I saw this. … I know what you guys accomplished—the debate, Gorbachev. But without this”—he tapped the twenty-page document—“Gorbachev is hogwash!” “Jack, when we started with McKinsey,” interjected Grossman’s deputy, Tim Russert,
Coca-Cola’s entertainment business sector. Fay Vincent had the right kind of credentials. Wyman had attended Phillips Academy, Vincent attended Hotchkiss; and each had served as trustee of his school. Wyman graduated from Amherst College, on whose board he sat, and Vincent from Williams College, on whose board be sat. Wyman came to CBS to clean up the mess left by a succession of CEOs fired by Bill Paley; Vincent became president of Columbia Pictures to clean up after the scandal left by his