CEO-A-GO-GO This year's favorite parlor game was name the media mogul to next be knocked off his perch. Viacom kicked off the year's intrigues with Sumner Redstone publicly attempting to boot Mel Karmazin as his successor. Master salesman Mel managed to hang on for the whole year, and his gamble of holding back upfront dollars paid off when TV faced one of the tightest scatter markets in recent history. Walt Disney Co.'s Michael Eisner also endured, despite headline after headline predicting he'd soon be out.
AS AOL TW TURNS Gerald Levin announced his retirement, and Richard Parsons ascended to CEO, after a rejuvenated and angry Ted Turner persuaded the board Levin had sold it down the river. (Turner's resurgence was one of the year's more remarkable events, after The New Yorker's Ken Auletta all but wrote his business obituary in a profile that was nominated for a National Magazine Award.) Chairman Steve Case stayed on his shaky perch atop the company, but he couldn't save Bob Pittman, who took the bullet for the company's bullish predictions it would meet outlandish targets it promised Wall St. but couldn't deliver. Schedenfreuden sensed among Time Inc.-ers as Chairman-CEO Don Logan moved up to corporate AOL TW to oversee several units, including ailing America Online . (The grapevine had Pittman replacing Disney's Eisner, but that never happened.)
Keeping it private Bertelsmann CEO Thomas Middlehoff was abruptly ousted midyear after clashing with the board over taking the company public. He went on to do a TV interview where he stated that Bertelsmann would never be a true global player unless it bites the bullet and goes public. Successor Gunther Thielen was very clear on his belief that Bertelsmann could fund its growth and stay private. Meanwhile, messes in its U.S. units included the spectacular flameout of Rosie O'Donnell's magazine and a fire sale of Napster's assets.
Viva la France After a spending spree left Vivendi Universal with $30.8 billion in debt, Jean-Marie Messier found his embrace of all things American left his French investors cold, and Americans were unconvinced his company's finances could withstand U.S. accounting scrutiny. (There's just no pleasing everyone!) Just when things couldn't get much messier, Jean-Rene Fourtou was named to replace him in July. Barry Diller raised his hand to help clean up, but just how much he'll be allowed to do remains to be seen.
Changing Channels The man who built his company on aggressively suing every competitor, Henry Yuen, was done in by his own sword via a June court ruling that three competitors were not infringing on Gemstar's patents. Gemstar took a massive writedown, its stock value disappeared, and Rupert Murdoch asserted his control. In other TV Guide shakeups, longtime editor Steve Reddicliffe resigned as new president John Loughlin looked to make his mark.
Over at Disney World, Michael Eisner started the year with no bonus, then he tossed ABC Entertainment Co-Chair Stu Bloomberg in favor of former Premiere editor and movie exec Susan Lyne, who backed a return to family entertainment. Former Regis Philbin blockbuster "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" (mercifully) faded away. Meanwhile, Bill Maher's "Politically Incorrect" got pre-empted indefinitely, opening the door to one of the year's fiercest news vs. entertainment debates, as ABC tried to woo CBS' David Letterman to replace Ted Koppel's "Nightline." Despite the country's alleged newfound post-9/11 gravitas, ABC executives thought a younger-skewing talk show was just what it needed. When Letterman said no thanks, ABC rushed to embrace a peeved Ted, and then slotted ex-"Man Show" host Jimmy Kimmel to roll out a live talk show following "Nightline." Now there's a lead-in!
Paula Zahn's debut on CNN met with outrage thanks to a promo spot that referred to her as "sexy" to the sound of a zipper unzipping. The all-news network lost Greta Van Susteren to Fox, a move overshadowed by talk of her eye job. Fox News, under Roger Ailes' guidance and its showcasing of splenetic Bill O'Reilly, gained ground on CNN, and still Ailes found time to give the President free advice! Under Walter Isaacson, charged with building CNN back to its former prominence, the network gave Larry King a $7 million-a-year contract, and brought on board newscaster Connie Chung and politico James Carville for "Crossfire."
A Christmas present for NBC, as it pulled off a late season miracle-re-signing the cast of "Friends" for another season. But there's one catch: only 18 episodes instead of the usual 22 or 24. Why only 18 episodes? "Friends" star Jennifer Aniston wants to start a family. (Does this mean Brad Pitt will do fewer movies?)
Time Inc. Editorial Director John Huey gets his payback for anotorious profile he ran several years back, while managing editor of Fortune, of Conde Nast President-CEO Steve Florio when GQ publishes a Huey slam. The piece chronicles Time Inc. editor turmoil: Sports Illustrated's Bill Colson replaced with Terry McDonell; Jim Seymore bumped upstairs, while Rick Tetzeli was handed job as managing editor of Entertainment Weekly; People gains Martha Nelson from In Style.
Still to come in 2003? Viacom's Pay-for-Gay channel, ex-Talk-er Maer Roshon's Radar; ABC News-CNN merger; and TiVo reaching critical mass?