Robert Edward "Ted" Turner III (born November 19, 1938) is an American media proprietor and philanthropist. As a businessman, he is best known as the founder of the cable television network CNN, the first dedicated 24-hour cable news channel. In addition to CNN, he founded WTBS, which pioneered the superstation concept in cable television. As a philanthropist, he is well known for his $1 billion gift to support UN causes, which created the United Nations Foundation, a public charity that broadens support for the UN. Turner serves as the Chairman of the board of directors for the foundation.
Turner's media empire began with his father's billboard business which he took over at the age of 24 after his father's suicide. The billboard business, Turner Outdoor Advertising, was worth approximately $1 million when Turner took it over in 1963. Purchase of an Atlanta UHF station in 1970 began the assemblage of the Turner Broadcasting System. His Cable News Network revolutionized news media, coming to the forefront covering the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986 and the Persian Gulf War in 1991. Using his media empire for publicity, Turner turned the Atlanta Braves baseball team into a nationally popular franchise and launched the charitable Goodwill Games.
Turner's penchant for making controversial statements has earned him the nickname "The Mouth of the South". Turner was also in the news for his much publicized marriage to actress and political activist Jane Fonda, as well as their subsequent divorce.
In addition to his charitable donations, Turner has devoted his assets to a blend of environmentalism and capitalism, owning more land than any other American, and using much of that land for ranches as part of his plan to repopularize bison meat (for his Ted's Montana Grill chain), in the process amassing the largest herd in the world. He also created the environmental education/action animated series Captain Planet and the Planeteers. Ted Turner was inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame on April 26, 2007.
Turner is highly honored among yachtsmen as the winner of at least two great races. In 1977, he successfully defended the America's Cup for the United States as skipper of the yacht Courageous. In the 1979 Fastnet race, made famous by the terrible storm and the resulting loss of life, he skippered the yacht Tenacious to a corrected-time victory.
He was inducted into the America's Cup Hall of Fame in 1993.
In 2008, Turner explained that he regretted these statements and that he had made peace with organized religion, announcing that he had joined forces with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod and the United Methodist Church to fight malaria.
Ted Turner caused a stir in Montana in 2003 by providing a significant amount of funding to a project aimed at restoring a westslope cutthroat trout population to Cherry Creek and Cherry Lake. The controversy stemmed from the use of the poison antimycin to kill the abundant fish population currently living in the stream.
Recently, there has been worry that Ted Turner is systematically taking over land surrounding the Ogallala Aquifer. Ranchers in the area have consistently been outbid by Turner (and his associates).
Turner is reportedly involved with several women, including the novelist and playwright Elizabeth Dewberry. Through Turner Enterprises, he owns 15 ranches in Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and South Dakota. Totaling , his US land-holdings make Turner the largest individual landowner in North America. According to his Ted's Montana Grill website, "Turner Enterprises' mission is to manage Turner lands in an economically sustainable and ecologically sensitive manner, while conserving native species."
Ted Turner sponsors the debates known as the Public forum debate of the National Forensic League. Every year, he attends the National Forensic League's National Speech and Debate Tournament and speaks there as well.
On September 19, 2006 Turner posited a hypothetical situation in a Reuters Newsmaker conference, relating to Iran's nuclear position, wherein he stated, "They're a sovereign state. We have 28,000. Why can't they have 10? We don't say anything about Israel—they've got 100 of them approximately—or India or Pakistan or Russia." He also facetiously advocated such policies as banning men from public office, "Men should be barred from public office for 100 years in every part of the world...The men have had millions of years where we've been running things. We've screwed it up hopelessly. Let's give it to the women.
During the Vietnam War Era, Turner’s billboard business, which “had virtual monopolies in Savannah, Macon, Columbus, and Charleston” and was “the largest outdoor advertising company in the Southeast,” according to "It Ain’t As Easy As It Looks", prospered. The same book also observed that after his father’s death, Turner “discovered his father had sheltered a substantial amount of taxable income over the years by personally lending it back to the company” and “discovered that the billboard business could be a gold mine, a tax-depreciable revenue stream that threw off enormous amounts of cash with almost no capital investment.” In the late 1960s, Turner decided to use the super-profits his inherited billboard monopoly generated to get into the more glamorous world of radio and TV broadcasting, by purchasing some Southern radio and TV stations.
In 1975, after the FCC allowed Turner’s WTCG-TV-Channel 17 station in Atlanta to begin using a satellite on December 27, 1976 to broadcast old movies, situation comedy reruns, cartoons, and sports events on a nationwide basis to U.S. cable-TV subscribers as a “Super-Station,” Turner’s Atlanta TV station became an extremely profitable operation. By the end of 1978, Turner’s WTCG-TV Super-Station (later becoming WTBS) was reaching two million cable-TV subscribers and Turner was now worth about $100 million. He was, thus, now able to purchase a plantation in Jacksonboro, South Carolina for $2 million.
Turner recognized early the potential of new communications satellites to make his small market station available nationwide. Thus, as cable systems were developed across the nation, many carried his Atlanta station free to fill out their offerings. This increased his viewership and advertising revenues.
He purchased the Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Hawks in 1976 partially to provide sports programming for his TV station, and similarly created the Goodwill Games in 1986. His relationship with the Braves was somewhat peculiar before the team's success in the 1990s; Turner was one of the more hands-on owners in baseball history, at one point going as far as to give the team's regular manager the day off so Turner could manage. About this experience, he famously said, "Managing isn't that difficult, you just have to score more runs than the other guy". Among other things, Turner suggested to pitcher Andy Messersmith who wore jersey number 17, that he legally change his surname to "Channel" in order to promote the television station that aired Braves games. Major League Baseball quickly nixed the idea. Turner Field, which was first used for the 1996 Summer Olympics as Centennial Olympic Stadium and then converted into a baseball-only facility for the Braves shortly thereafter, is named after him.
After five years on the air, CNN found themselves outgrowing their original home, a former country club on the outskirts of Midtown Atlanta. Turner purchased the Omni International from developer Tom Cousins and moved CNN there. The complex was rechristened the CNN Center. As the Omni International, the office/retail/movie theater/hotel complex had never succeeded. Through some clever financial maneuvering, Cousins had managed to keep it solvent, then sold it to Turner along with the Atlanta Hawks. CNN then moved into the end of the tower that once housed The World of Sid and Marty Krofft. Having the presence of Turner gave the Omni a focus that it had never enjoyed before, and it was instrumental in the revival of Atlanta's Downtown area.
Following the acquisition, Ted Turner assumed an enormous debt and had no other choice but to sell parts of the acquisition. MGM/UA Entertainment Co. was sold back to Kirk Kerkorian. The MGM/UA Studio lot in Culver City was sold to Lorimar/Telepictures. Turner kept MGM/UA's pre-1986 and pre-merger film and TV library, which included nearly all of MGM/UA's material made before the merger, and a small portion of United Artists' film and TV properties (which included very few UA pictures, the TV series Gilligan's Island, the RKO Radio Pictures library, and the pre-1948 Warner Bros. library that was once the property of Associated Artists Productions, which merged with UA Television in 1958).
In 1992, the MGM library, which as noted above included a number of Warner Brothers properties, including the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies libraries became the core of Cartoon Network. Turner's companies had also purchased Hanna-Barbera Productions by this time, adding additional content. With the 1996 Time Warner merger, the channel's archives gained the post-1948 Warner Bros. cartoon library, thus giving the channel's archive a staggering amount of cartoons.
In the mid-1980s, Turner became a driving force for the colorization of black and white films. In 1985, the film Yankee Doodle Dandy became the first black and white movie to be redistributed in color, thanks to computer colorization. Despite widespread opposition to the practice by many film aficionados, stars, and directors, the movie won over a sizeable section of the public on its re-release, and Turner would soon colorize a majority of films that he had owned. However, in the mid-1990s, the high cost of the process led Turner to abandon the idea of colorizing films. In contrast with TNT, TCM has shown the unaltered versions of films.
In 1988, Turner purchased Jim Crockett Promotions which he soon renamed World Championship Wrestling (WCW) which would grow to become the main competitor to Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Federation (WWF). In 2001, under AOL Time Warner control, it was sold to the World Wrestling Federation. It has been stated that Ted Turner has always had a special place in his heart for professional wrestling.
In 1989, Ted Turner created the Turner Tomorrow Fellowship to be awarded to a work of fiction offering positive solutions to global problems. The winner, chosen from 2500 entries worldwide, was Daniel Quinn's Ishmael.
Turner was vice chairman and Time Warner's biggest stock holder. Turner was to endorse the disastrous merger with AOL. It is estimated he lost as much as $8 billion when the stock collapsed in the wake of the merger. He stepped down as vice chairman in 2006. When questions have been put to him about buying back his former assets, he always replied that he can't afford them now.
He is America's largest private landowner, owning approximately two million acres (8,000 km²), which is greater than the land areas of the two smallest states of Delaware and Rhode Island combined. According to documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, Turner's land has a higher gross domestic product than the country of Belize. He also has the largest private bison herd in the world, with 40,000 head. In 2002, Turner co-founded Ted's Montana Grill, a restaurant chain specializing in burgers and other entrees made from fresh bison meat.
Under his ownership, World Championship Wrestling became the only federation in history to outrate and outsell the McMahon family and their World Wrestling Federation. This event brought about a rise in popularity to professional wrestling and is now known as the Monday Night Wars. WCW television ratings were also heavily competing with ABC's Monday Night Football.
In 1998, Turner pledged to donate $1 billion of his then $3 billion net worth to United Nations causes, and created the United Nations Foundation to administer the gift. The Foundation "builds and implements public-private partnerships to address the world’s most pressing problems, and broadens support for the UN through advocacy and public outreach." In 2006, the Foundation delivered its billionth dollar to United Nations causes—approximately $600M of which came from Turner, and $400M of which came from public and private sector partners. Turner has pledged to use the remaining $400 million dollars from his commitment to leverage additional funds for UN causes and activities.
In 2006 Turner received the Bower Award for Business Leadership from The Franklin Institute.
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