Vox Populi: The O'Shaughnessy Files

By William O’Shaughnessy | Go to book overview

THE DECLINE OF CBS

I was a great fan of William S. Paley, the legendary
founder of CBS. When the Tiffany Network fell on hard
times after Mr. Paley’s demise, I penned this letter to
Broadcasting magazine about one of his successors. (I
should add that Mr. Tisch, himself now departed, was a
great philanthropist and friend of the infant State of
Israel.) The Tisch family continues his philanthropic ways
and is highly respected in New York. I have special regard
for his nephew Jonathan Tisch, the president of Loews
Hotels, who is a great civic leader and has been
encouraged to enter the public arena and run for political
office. Written on November 25, 2003, these are my
thoughts on the decline of CBS.

To properly draw the measure of Larry Tisch’s time at CBS, you must look at his dazzling predecessor, William S. Paley. Broadcast- ing & Cable’s brilliant editorial “The House that Tisch Sold” and its sad conclusion, “He took a great company and made it small,” really spoke for a lot of people who knew and admired Mr. Paley.

Despite all the encomiums in the New York papers last week, Larry Tisch will be remembered by our tribe for stripping the style, cachet, and tradition from the once-glorious CBS during his brief, but profitable, reign back in the ’80s.

As has been 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 to him, CBS was just the means to an end, not a public trust or an instrument for community development.

Radio aficionados will remember a day in August 1988 when, without alerting either listeners or staff, Tisch shut down WCAU, the mighty Philadelphia radio station where CBS actually began in 1927.

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