Tisch Pales in Comparison


Editor: One can't properly draw the measure of Larry Tisch's time at CBS unless you also look at his dazzling predecessor. And BROADCASTING & CABLE's brilliant editorial ("The House That Tisch Sold," 11/24/03) and its sad conclusion, "He took a great company and made it small," really spoke for a lot of your readers who knew and admired William S. Paley.

Despite all the encomiums in the New York papers last week, Larry Tisch will be remembered by our tribe as having stripped the style, cachet and tradition from the once glorious CBS during his sad but profitable reign back in the '80s.

As you so accurately pointed out, Tisch indeed made a lot of money in tobacco, movie theaters, insurance and oil tankers. And then he enriched his own family-controlled business to the tune of $1 billion by diminishing the network and its divisions. But CBS was just the means to an end and never resembled a public trust or an instrument of communication for him.

Radio people will also remember a day in August 1988 when, without alerting either listeners or staff, Tisch even shut down WCAU(AM), the mighty Philadelphia radio station where CBS began in 1927.

Memorable observations survive from the Tisch era. Sony Chairman Akio Morita said, "Larry Tisch is breaking up the company and eating it himself." And the devastating comment attributed to Frank Stanton: "CBS is now just another company with dirty carpets."

To realize just how damaging the Tisch era was, one need only refer to Sally Bedell Smith's definitive biography of Mr. Paley, In All His Glory. And your editorial last week.

At Mr. Paley's 86th birthday party at the St. Regis Hotel, Andy Rooney told the audience, "I went to work for CBS in 1949, and I have met William S. Paley maybe 30 times during those years, and tonight was the first time I ever called him Bill. Funny thing is, I met Laurence Tisch only twice, and I called him Larry both times!"

Some years later, after Mr. Paley was gone, Rooney also said, "They're just corporate initials now."

Your editorial was an important footnote to that era. Larry Tisch made a lot of money. And, as you have also fairly reported, he gave away a lot of it. It's only regrettable—but very clear—that the only thing which eluded him during his stewardship of CBS was statesmanship.

Kudos also to P.J. Bednarski for his thoughtful commentary, "My Television Pals" (11/24/03), about Kobe, Michael, Rush, Paris Hilton and the cult of celebrity.

These two examples of brilliant journalism prove once again that B&C is a lot more than just a "trade publication." It was ever thus.

William O'Shaughnessy, president and editorial director, Whitney Radio, Westchester, N.Y.