The churning of Atlanta
By John M. Higgins -- Broadcasting & Cable, 7/1/2001 8:00:00 PM
The executive shuffle at Turner Broadcasting System continued with CNN Chairman Tom Johnson's announcing his retirement from the network.
Johnson will exit the network immediately, though he remains a consultant to TBS Chairman Jamie Kellner. His slot is not being filled immediately, with Kellner taking charge of CNN's top executives: Phil Kent, president and chief operating officer of CNN News Group, and Eason Jordan, chief news executive. Jordan also reports to Kent.
CNN founder Ted Turner brought Johnson in 10 years ago, relying on his background as publisher of the Los Angeles Times to help the news operations' credibility. Johnson was there for CNN's proudest moment, its coverage of the Gulf War, but also was on watch as Fox News Channel ate into CNN's ratings.
"It is time for a workaholic to escape the stress of work before stress gets me," Johnson said in a memo to CNN staff. Johnson is the fourth senior TBS executive to quit since AOL completed its takeover of Time Warner in February. TBS Chairman Terry McGuirk stepped aside, although he remains as head of TBS' Atlanta Braves and Hawks sports teams. TBS President Steve Heyer left for Coca-Cola once it became clear he wasn't going to ascend. Betty Cohen, who shepherded The Cartoon Network to cable ratings heights, recently resigned but is starting a new venture aimed at teens with AOL Time Warner's backing.
Johnson gave no advance warning of his plans. CNN insiders said that, on Thursday morning, he called Kellner to schedule a meeting that afternoon, walked in and handed him a resignation letter. A TBS executive said, "He was not being squeezed out."
Still, Johnson's departure is no particular surprise. Despite his contention that he was happy at the network, CNN executives said Johnson was chafing over his marginalized role following a reorganization last August. His responsibilities have been diminished in recent months ever since the ouster of CNN President Rick Kaplan, whom Johnson had tapped to launch an expensive, failed attempt to anchor prime time with newsmagazines.
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