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The eye is on Laurence Tisch.

Inside and outside Black Rock, people are wondering what the CBS chairman's next play will be.

Even CBS' most senior executives profess ignorance of what Mr. Tisch's plans actually may be, but expectations are that he's working on a deal that will transform the network.

Mr. Tisch already tried to do just that a year ago with a CBS-QVC merger. That deal fell apart when QVC's principal shareholders balked and bought out the remaining shares, but the aborted merger attempt is a good blueprint for what Mr. Tisch may next have in mind-a deal that would increase CBS' value while leaving him in an influential, if not controlling, position.

"If Larry Tisch does a deal, he may have to give up some control, but he will get value for it. He will continue to have ownership and some control no matter who he sells to," said Michael Wolf, a partner at Booz Allen & Hamilton, New York.

Among the suitors believed to be courting CBS is Barry Diller, the former QVC chief who attempted the ill-fated merger and who recently left the home shopping network. Other potential suitors include CBS spinoff Viacom, Walt Disney Co., Time Warner and Turner Broadcasting System.

Wall Street believes a CBS sale is imminent. Merrill Lynch & Co. estimates the network's market value currently is $45 to $50 per share. Last week, CBS shares were trading at about $65 each. In the event of a bidding war, Merrill Lynch analyst Jessica Reif estimates CBS shares could hit $80, about what most analysts believe Mr. Tisch is seeking.

The question is, will anyone be willing to pay that kind of a premium for a network that will likely finish the season in last place.

"Someone will step forward sooner rather than later," said media industry consultant Jack Myers. "Even with its problems, CBS is a tremendously valuable asset and it's only going to get more valuable as things improve."

Booz Allen's Mr. Wolf, meanwhile, doesn't believe Mr. Tisch is looking to cash out just yet.

"Larry Tisch knows these things go in waves .*.*. right now, he's reinvesting in programming," Mr. Wolf said. "You can see that in the deal CBS just did with Steven Bochco."

CBS last week struck an exclusive prime-time development pact with red-hot drama producer Steven Bochco. The deal doesn't begin until ABC's current deal with Mr. Bochco ends in December 1996, but it shows Mr. Tisch is thinking about CBS' future.


Laurence A. Tisch

AGE: 72

EDUCATION: New York University, B.S.; University of Pennsylvania, master's degree, industrial engineering.

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Joined CBS Inc. in September 1986 as acting CEO; named president-CEO, January 1987; named chairman, December 1990. Also serves as co-chairman and co-CEO of Loews Corp.

PERSONAL: Married to Wilma; four sons.

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