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The Book of Ted: Turner Wants To Talk

Ted Turner has a remarkable tale to tell—and publishers have been trying, unsuccessfully, to get him to tell it since the early 1980s. But now Turner, who turns 67 on Nov. 19, may be finally ready to reflect on a life that has included founding CNN, captaining an America's Cup-winning yacht, marrying/divorcing Jane Fonda, owning the Atlanta Braves, and buying up gigantic swaths of the western United States.

Powerhouse agent Mort Janklow is testing publishers' appetites—and pocketbooks—for a Turner memoir.

A possible collaborator is Bill Burke, who worked for Turner Broadcasting System from 1992-2000, rising from lowly staffer to president of TBS Superstation. (He is well acquainted with life at the top in TV: He's the son of legendary Capital Cities/ABC President Dan Burke and brother of Comcast President Steve Burke.)

In 2001, Burke was named president of The Weather Channel. He quit that gig a year ago, and moved to Maine for a change of life. Working with the volatile Turner would no doubt be a bit of a change, too.

Though he's not a professional writer, Burke earlier this year began working on an article that one industry executive described as “Everything I know about business, I learned from Ted Turner.” Burke sent a draft to Turner, who rang him up and proposed collaborating on an autobiography. But so far, the two have not committed to working together.

How big a deal would a Turner biography be?

“I think Ted is so interesting,” says a major New York literary agent. “I think it's worth the sun and the moon.”

But that's only if Turner is more candid than most media moguls (Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone and Disney's ex-CEO Michael Eisner come to mind), whose memoirs tend to be tedious, self-serving affairs. And Simon & Schuster has been twice disappointed by Turner manuscripts it commissioned in the past, choosing not to publish what was turned in.

In other words: A Turner book about environmentalism and buffalo-breeding—snooze; a Turner tell-all about Jane, Jim Beam and brawling over the AOL-Time Warner merger—back-ordered on Amazon!

Burke wouldn't comment, and a spokesman for Turner says talking about an autobiography is “way too premature.”

A Bounce For Buss

Los Angeles Lakers Executive VP Jeanie Buss is best known for being the daughter of the owner (Jerry) and the girlfriend of the coach (Phil Jackson). A Playboy pictorial in 1995 didn't hurt her Q score either. But she hopes to add “TV producer” to that list one day soon.

A one-hour scripted drama loosely based on her life has already come close to network deals two different times—at NBC in 2003 and then ABC (where the project was orphaned after its champion, Television Group Chairman Lloyd Braun, was let go in 2004). Now producer Gavin Polone is hoping the third time's a charm, or at least a pilot.

Polone thinks the market is ripe for the story Buss envisions. “Different times, different tastes,” he says, citing the success of Desperate Housewives. “I'm going to try again at the networks.”

The project has the NBA as a partner, meaning the show could use real team names and logos. But Buss says that's where the reality will stop, even though the soap opera that is the Lakers could by itself provide the fodder for an entire TV season. Buss says, “It isn't just the Phil and Jeanie story.”

Reality Check

In our continuing effort to keep you abreast of what's in the reality-show pipeline, Flash presents our favorite casting call of late, apparently for a pilot of I Pity the Fool for TV Land:

Does your family, business or organization need help from a superhero with a Mohawk? Very Real Casting is looking for a fun, enthusiastic, charismatic, real-life “cast of characters” that live or work together—but who have some communications issues that get in the way of progress. What could be the problem? Here are some examples: lack of motivation, bad organization skills, too many big personalities, office politics ... If this sounds familiar, Mr. T is ready to rock your world. The television icon and real-life superhero will mix tough love with compassion in order to help businesses or families to communicate more effectively with one another and to get the job done, T-style!

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