L ast week, NBC refugee Conan O’Brien announced he’d been granted asylum (for a reported $10 million a year), not by a broadcast network but by cable-TV pioneer TBS. Founded by Ted Turner in Atlanta, TBS was sold to Time Warner, where it has become the most-watched channel the conglomerate owns.
Number of U.S. households that get TBS (out of 114.5 million with TV sets)
Rank of TBS among cable viewers 18–49 during prime time, April 5–11
It Came From Atlanta
1970: Turner Communications, the radio-and-billboard company founded by Ted Turner’s late father, takes control of WJRJ, Atlanta’s channel 17. Turner, 31, renames the musty black-and-white station WTCG. One of its innovations: The Now Explosion, a music-video program, a decade before MTV.
1976: Turner invents the “superstation” concept, broadcasting WTCG’s old movies and sitcom reruns via satellite. He buys the Atlanta Braves, turning WTBS into a sports destination.
1979: WTCG becomes WTBS—for Turner Broadcasting System.
1983: WTBS launches Night Tracks, an awesomely cheesy music-video show that will last for nine years.
1984: WTBS starts airing NBA games.
1986: Turner acquires MGM-UA for $1.6 billion, which expands the TBS library by more than 3,000 movies. WTBS then airs “colorized” versions of several black-and-white classics, annoying cinema purists.
1987: Superstation WTBS, soon to reach half of TV households, drops the “W” to become SuperStation TBS.
1995: Time Warner and Turner’s various assets,including TBS,TNT, and the Cartoon Network, announce a $7.5 billion merger.
2000: AOL and TBS parent Time Warner announce a merger. Ted Turner, initially named a vice-chairman, exits the company entirely by 2006.
2002: TBS starts airing Seinfeld reruns.
2004: TBS introduces its “Very funny” tagline and announces a strategy of targeting “young, well-educated adults” who like to laugh.
2007: TBS starts airing The Office reruns.
2009: George Lopez enters the 11 p.m. talk-show fray with Lopez Tonight.
2010: TBS announces that it will bump George Lopez to midnight to make room for Conan.
Median age of Lopez Tonight viewers
Median age of The Tonight Show viewers, now that Jay Leno is back
Median age of viewers of Conan’s Tonight Show
“It was like having my heart ripped out.”
—Ted Turner about leaving Time Warner, separating from Jane Fonda, and watching his net worth shrink by $7 billion as his shares plummeted after the AOL–Time Warner merger.