May, 1995 —
1 CNN Center, North Tower
You could almost be excused for missing it.
After all, it stood inconspicuous amidst the sea of decorative souvenirs. Indeed, some eyes were first drawn to the accolades on display - the primetime Emmy, the CableACE award, TIME Magazine’s Man of the Year trophy - while others stared intently at the framed photo of Jane Fonda on the coffee table. Perhaps most alluring was the sight of “Leo”, a full-bodied stuffed lion with a curious resemblance to the one whose roar introduced an MGM Hollywood movie. A persistent rumor posited that it could be the actual lion, who by now had clearly seen better days. “Leo looks sick,” thought some recent visitors.
But there it was, silently demanding your attention in the middle of the room. At the front of the desk in this top-floor office, a solid brown plaque displayed an insightful refrain:
Either lead, follow or get out of the way.
The artifact was as revealing as it was succinct. The plaque, the office, and the building belonged to Robert Edward Turner III - better known to the public as the eccentric media mogul, Ted Turner. On a particularly humid Atlanta day, Ted looked over the downtown district and contemplated the standing of his pioneering cable television enterprise, Turner Broadcasting System. The broadcasting empire, which included ownership of New Line Cinema, CNN, and the Atlanta Braves, seemed to be under no immediate threat. For now, there was the simple matter of the latest executive committee meeting, a monthly gathering that functioned as a pep rally of sorts for the charismatic Chairman and his high-level suits.
As a faction of key executives entered the room, Ted cast his 56-year old pale blue eyes at a veritable ‘who’s who’ of TBS. Among those in attendance were Terry Foster McGuirk, Turner's Director and Executive Vice President; Randolph 'Randy' L. Booth, a former Chief Financial Officer now working as an adviser; and the Director and Vice President of Turner Entertainment Group, Scott Sassa, widely considered to be the heir apparent to Turner's throne.
As the agenda moved to AOB - any other business - Booth announced with palpable glee that an unsolicited offer had been received for one of Turner’s subsidiary companies. It was an offer to purchase the organization whose televised presence was a constant source of embarrassment for many of the TBS corporate brass. In an ironic allusion to its place in the organizational hierarchy, this particular entity was listed last on the company's inventory of 150 controlled entities (the list was compiled of course, as is standard for the SEC, in alphabetical order).
Booth reported that an offer had been made to purchase World Championship Wrestling (WCW), Inc. - the Turner-controlled pro wrestling outfit and notoriously inept money-loser. Since its official inception some seven years earlier, WCW had never so much made a single dollar in profit, and to many, its continued survival was as perplexing as its creation.