Roone Arledge had made ABC News number one. But the network's owners were increasingly troubled by his loose management style and free-spending ways. The impasse couldn't last.
By Marc Gunther
Marc Gunther, who has covered network news since 1983, is a senior writer at Fortune magazine.
Early on the morning of September 5, 1991, three presidents stood together at one end of St. George's Hall in the Kremlin. They were Mikhail Gorbachev, the president of the Soviet Union, Boris Yeltsin, the president of the Russian Republic, and Roone Arledge, the president of ABC News.
The eyes of the world were turned toward the Soviet Union. A clumsy attempt by Communist Party hard-liners to oust Gorbachev had just collapsed, giving way to renewed pressures for democratic reform, led by Yeltsin.
For the first time since the failed coup, Gorbachev and Yeltsin would be interviewed on television. The interview had been arranged by ABC News, for live broadcast around the world. Peter Jennings, ABC's evening news anchor, would guide the discussion, and Gorbachev and Yeltsin had agreed to take questions from Americans in nine cities across the United States.
It was an extraordinary scene: the two most powerful men in the Soviet Union appearing on American television at a pivotal moment in their nation's history. Their presence before ABC's cameras spoke volumes, not just about the revolutionary changes convulsing the Soviet Union, but about the growing importance of television as a player on the world stage.
No individual had done more to expand the role of television in world affairs than the third president in St. George's Hall. He was a stocky, round-faced, red-haired man dressed in a dark blue suit, who appeared briefly on the screen. Although few viewers could have recognized his face, his name had become familiar to millions during a phenomenal television career spanning four decades.
Roone Arledge. Like so much about him, his name set him apart. It was Arledge who had brought Gorbachev and Yeltsin together – literally, by extending the invitation on behalf of ABC News, but more important, by dint of his impact on the world of broadcast news. He was a powerful man, not simply because he ran one of the world's great news organizations, but because of the way he did so: with absolute authority.
To a remarkable degree, ABC News was Roone Arledge: He was the creator and producer of its programs, the absolute ruler of its people, and the guardian of its independence. Arledge had turned ABC News from a faltering, underfinanced, third-place operation into the dominant network news division of the 1990s. ABC News reached the most viewers, made the most money and generated the most glowing accolades. Not since the heyday of Walter Cronkite at CBS had one network run so far ahead of the competition.
Over the years, Arledge had assembled a galaxy of stars – Peter Jennings, Ted Koppel, Barbara Walters, David Brinkley, Diane Sawyer, Sam Donaldson and Hugh Downs – that was unequalled in the annals of network news. He had invented "Nightline" and developed "World News Tonight," "20/20," "This Week With David Brinkley" and "PrimeTime Live" – all commercial successes. Each had its own identity, but every one concluded in the same way: "More Americans," an announcer said, "get their news from ABC News than from any other source." The boast was true.
By 1991, Arledge could lay claim to a place in a select circle of men who had created and shaped network news, men like William S. Paley, Edward R. Murrow, Don Hewitt of CBS News and Reuven Frank of NBC. Arledge had come to network news as an outsider, with no stake in its traditions, and woke up an industry that had settled into a contented sleep after its early pioneering days. He arrived at the ideal time, when ABC was flush with money and ready to experiment with new technologies. He brought vision and energy and determination and ideas.
It was because of Arledge, more than anyone else, that viewers came to expect television to bring them live, immediate coverage of major news events as they happened, anywhere in the world. It was Arledge who changed the look of broadcast news, experimented with new formats and expanded news programming, from early morning to late night.
It was Arledge, for better or worse, who did more than anyone to generate the fame, wealth and power enjoyed by star anchors at all the networks. And it was Arledge who pushed television to make the global village a reality – by persuading world leaders to appear on ABC, by taking his programs to Moscow, South Africa and the Middle East, and by convincing Gorbachev and Yeltsin to talk with ordinary Americans. Roone Arledge had not only played the game of television news better than any of his peers, he had rewritten the rules.
As Gorbachev and Yeltsin took questions from across America, Arledge knew that the town meeting would enhance the reputation of ABC News, as well as his own stature. As it happened, the program was all he had hoped it would be – the town meeting format produced compelling television, as the Soviet leaders spoke for 90 minutes about everything from their personal spiritual beliefs to the future of their nation.
Watching the program on a monitor, Arledge was also pleased that the technically complex broadcast had gone off without a hitch – or at least without one noticeable to viewers. The only problem involved commercial breaks, and it was due to a misunderstanding between Arledge and his corporate superiors at Capital Cities/ABC.
Midway through the broadcast Richard Wald, an ABC News vice president in the control room in New York, asked, "Aren't we going to break for a commercial?" Others assumed Wald was speaking on behalf of Daniel Burke, the president of Capital Cities, and Stephen A. Weiswasser, a Cap Cities lawyer and executive, who were also watching from the control room.
But Arledge had prohibited any breaks after Gorbachev and Yeltsin had begun to speak, in part to make it harder for them to end the interview. When no breaks were taken, the Capital Cities men appeared irritated and left the control room. Later, they insisted they had not applied any pressure to get more commercials into the program, which cost ABC about $1.4 million. Wald confirmed their account. The walkout had been misunderstood.
Nevertheless, rumors about the incident spread through ABC News, where, in fact, real pressures were being brought to bear on Arledge by Cap Cities.
His problems were not new. Arledge was a self-centered man who drove his people hard and, as a result, he had never been beloved within ABC News. His struggles with Capital Cities dated back to 1986, when Cap Cities bought ABC and stripped Arledge of his authority over ABC Sports, the organization he had built before assuming control of ABC News.
Back then, Tom Murphy and Dan Burke, the cost-conscious managers who ran Cap Cities, had tried to cut Arledge's $2 million salary. While Arledge eventually grew to like Murphy, who stepped down as CEO in 1990, he never warmed up to Burke and others from Cap Cities. He felt that they never fully appreciated all he had done for ABC, and he hated when they meddled in his news division. As long as ABC News brought profits and prestige to the company, Arledge argued, he should be left alone to run it.
Dan Burke would never agree to that. If anything, Burke faulted himself for not moving more decisively to curb Arledge's power. But Burke had very mixed feelings about Arledge. Although he had enormous admiration for his creativity, he did not believe that Arledge had the management skills needed to lead ABC News in the 1990s: He was not committed to cost control, he was inattentive to the details of administration, and he bruised people unnecessarily.
Nevertheless, he valued his talents as a programmer and worried that Arledge's departure would cause fallout, inside and outside ABC News. If Arledge were forced out, he thought, some star anchors and producers might leave, too.
Discreetly, Burke took soundings around the news division to see how some of the most valuable people regarded Arledge. Burke found that his misgivings were shared by those who worked for Arledge: that he was a brilliant and creative producer, but he was remote, indecisive and bored by administrative detail. Nor was he a team player. The feeling was that Arledge put himself ahead of the needs of ABC News.
Burke decided to make his move.
With Arledge still overseas, Burke would give his news president a day or two to get over jet lag, then he would deliver the unpleasant news. Roone Arledge was about to face his own palace coup.
Dan Burke had struggled for months over what to do about Roone Arledge. Arledge did not help his own cause when he skipped Cap Cities' regular management meetings; sometimes he sent an aide, and other times no one from ABC News would show up. Burke thought that was discourteous, if not arrogant.
Given Arledge's disdain for meetings – especially meetings that focused on the budget – it was fitting that the conflicts between Arledge and Burke burst into the open during a meeting over costs.
The session had gone badly from the start. Arledge and his ABC News people did not seem prepared or particularly interested in the discussion. When Burke tried to pin him down, Arledge "dodged and weaved around the questions on the table," an executive recalled.
Sounding exasperated, Arledge said, "I have no idea why things of this relative unimportance are being decided at this level."
"Roone," he said, in a voice that seethed with anger, "unless you're present, nothing ever gets decided, and these issues demand resolution."
Burke went on to chew out Arledge. "I can see you're not even paying attention to what's being decided here," he said, "because you're not writing anything down." Arledge was wrong to believe that Burke was not a friend of ABC News, but he said it was long past time that Arledge begin to live by the rules that govern everyone else at Cap Cities.
"You News guys think you're special," Burke said. He also reminded Arledge that the corporation had just given him a lucrative new contract. "It's time for you to start giving something back."
A moment later, Burke exploded at Dick Wald, a top aide to Arledge, whose pursed lips made it look as if he were smiling.
"Wipe that smirk off your face," Burke yelled. "This is not funny to me."
The meeting broke up, uncomfortably, a few minutes later.
Onlookers had never seen Burke so angry. "This was about a seven on the Richter scale," said one. Later, Burke denied he had lost control. After the meeting, he was actually pleased. Burke believed in confronting problems openly and honestly. For the first time in the five years since the Cap Cities takeover, he said, people realized that ABC News was going to be asked to submit to the same disciplines as the rest of the company. Now everyone knew Arledge was in the penalty box.
Dan Burke recognized that Arledge's news operation, unlike those at CBS and NBC, was making money – about $70 million in 1990, by the news division's accounting. Burke, as a sports fan, cherished the time he'd spent with Arledge in the control room during the 1988 Calgary Olympics.
Arledge's grasp of world events also impressed Burke, who recalled Arledge saying during the Persian Gulf War that "this is just a sideshow" and that "the greatest event since World War II will unfold in Russia and Eastern Europe." Months later, communism collapsed. "When somebody tells you something like that," Burke said, "and it is so prescient, you don't dismiss their instincts casually. There are some people who just have the capacity to look out over the horizon and understand, and Roone is one of them."
Their belief in Arledge had led Murphy and Burke to reward him in 1990 with a five-year, $3-million-a-year contract – more money than either of them earned from Cap Cities. They believed that, whatever his flaws, nobody was better able to run ABC News.
But, by the following year, with the nation in a recession and the television business in distress, Burke worried about the costs of ABC News. Since 1986, Cap Cities had cut about 1,800 jobs from the rest of the company but fewer than 100 were let go in News.
Burke was obsessed by
costs. While Arledge glided around Manhattan in his chauffeur-driven Jaguar, Burke made a show of his own frugality, boasting about how he walked to work in the rain.
During budget meetings, he used to remind people that "anyone in charge of anything shouldn't get too big or important to forget the details," an executive said. Burke believed that "the companies that really succeed over an extended period of time are those which inculcate a feeling of maturity and responsibility about costs as far down in the organization as possible."
That wasn't happening at ABC News. Burke wanted the executive producers, the field producers, the desk people and everyone else to strive for efficiency. But Arledge, who set the tone, had no commitment to cost-cutting; he even failed to keep a close eye on his budget.
Burke remembered watching Ar-ledge when a big story broke. "People were coming in and out in a state of excitement," Burke said. "They were chartering jets in Europe, and trying to reposition people... He'd make decisions and it was amazing to watch him do it." Impressed as he was by Arledge's generalship, Burke worried. "As I listened to him, I could just hear thousands and thousands of dollars being spent." Nobody had even asked about costs.
Arledge, however, thought the Cap Cities people were so intent on cost control they lost sight of what mattered most: the programs. "You can never get away from people's perceptions," Arledge said. "You can have somebody who will look at the Sistine ceiling and say, 'I would have used a different kind of plaster." Or, How much did the plaster cost and why do we need a scaffold?' " In the world of Cap Cities, Arledge thought, the frugal executive was valued more than the successful one.
Philosophically, Arledge believed that a narrow focus on costs stifled risk-taking. "If you are going to grow in an economy that is becoming global and becoming bigger, you have to invest," he said. "There would not be a 'PrimeTime Live' if I hadn't spent all that time over everybody's objections trying to get Diane Sawyer." One hit show, he said, could do more for a network that any cost-cutting campaign.
Nothing bothered him more than the rap that ABC News was out of control. "We run the largest operation. We bring the company prestige, and we make money for them," said Joanna Bistany, his trusted aide. "These people who say, 'Roone's a genius but he's a terrible manager' – I don't know how you can equate that with a successful news division. This news division did not become profitable by accident."
Tensions between Burke and Arledge were exacerbated after the Persian Gulf War in January 1991. By Burke's accounting, spending on news coverage had exceeded the budget by $30 million during 1990 and another $30 million during 1991.
In addition, special events programming forced ABC to cancel profitable entertainment shows. Burke had been unstinting in his support for ABC News during the war, but afterwards he sought deep cuts in the news budget, which had climbed to about $375 million by 1991.
Under pressure from Cap Cities, Arledge reluctantly approved a new round of spending cuts. Roughly 100 positions were eliminated from a work force of about 1,250, and bureaus in St. Louis, Rome, Frankfurt and Hong Kong were shut down. Arledge claimed he had achieved $7 million worth of cuts for 1991 and another $25 million in prospective savings for 1992.
Burke didn't buy it. He thought Arledge had nipped around the edges, sparing big-ticket items that were protected by show producers and star anchors. "Roone dislikes confrontation more than almost anybody I've met," Burke said. And he didn't believe the numbers. "No department was more capable of self-delusion than News," he said. "I never could be sure they knew what the hell they were talking about."
A story Burke heard that summer troubled him. Traveling to London, Ar-ledge, Bistany and ABC consultant Judith Kipper had notified the bureau to send a car to the airport. Playing it safe, the bureau ordered three cars ? so the two executives and Kipper rode into the city in what amounted to a motorcade.
Burke thought ABC News had yet to be joined with Capital Cities. "I find that the courage and the talent, the intelligence, the energy and the spirit that make great entrepreneurs frequently preclude a patience with detail and a patience with routine," Burke said. "Roone has to this day never developed a great appetite for that."
?n September 1991, with Arledge in Moscow, Burke asked Steve Weiswasser, a Cap Cities executive, to go to work inside ABC News. Weiswasser's mandate: to transform the news operation from Roone Arledge's fiefdom into an integral part of Capital Cities/ABC.
"It was important," Dan Burke said, "to get someone in there to articulate and communicate the principles that have been more quickly embraced in the other parts of the company."
The only risk was that Arledge might quit, but it was a risk that Burke was willing to take.
At a hastily called meeting in actober 1991, Arledge informed his top staff people that Weiswasser had been named executive vice president of ABC News.
He cast the news in a positive light. As Arledge explained it, Weiswasser would be responsible for the budget and the day-to-day management of ABC News. Weiswasser would not have any say over editorial and programming matters.
The idea, Arledge said, was to allow him to spend less time going to meetings and worrying about the budget so that he would be free to concentrate on programs. "I'm confident that this will be good for all of us," Arledge said.
Several people in the room were impressed with how gracefully Arledge handled the announcement. And everyone knew that he had just been humiliated.
Arledge, they knew, would not voluntarily give up power. And, even if he had chosen to hire an executive vice president, he would never have picked Weiswasser, who was loyal to Cap Cities.
?veryone also knew that the distinction Arledge had tried to draw between Weiswasser's financial duties and his own authority over programming was an artificial one. Budgetary decisions were editorial decisions, too. No wall could be erected between them.
Weiswasser reported to Burke. "I'm not here to work for Roone, and wouldn't," he said. Nor was Arledge working for him. In theory, they were supposed to work together; any irreconcilable disputes would be taken to Burke. In practice, as he began to carry out his mandate Weiswasser functioned as an occupying general.
Now, Weiswasser told people, "part of your job is to think of ways to run your show that cost less than the way you did it yesterday. We save money because of the thousands of individual decisions made by people all over this place every day."
Weiswasser imposed a number of money-saving changes that had been resisted by Arledge. "Nightline" was consolidated in Washington. Through-out ABC News, fewer editing and control rooms were used. Producers for the magazine shows were given tighter shooting and editing schedules.
Layoffs followed in January 1992. Among those let go was veteran Sander Vanocur, Arledge's first hire at ABC News.
Weiswasser tallied up the savings and figured he had cut more than $25 million from the 1992 news budget – money that Arledge claimed he would have wrung out on his own. Weiswasser doubted that and believed even more budget cuts were needed.
Arledge strongly disagreed, but he was willing to let Weiswasser immerse himself in the intricacies of the budget. He held out a faint hope that the newcomer could be made an ally.
Besides, Arledge was confronted with a far more serious problem – he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in early 1992. Following surgery, Arledge needed weeks to recover before he could return to the office.
Recuperating in his Park Avenue apartment, Arledge conducted business, over the phone, but he felt cut off. "What he feared desperately was that Weiswasser was going to change the locks," an aide said. Worried that he was losing control, Arledge asked that some senior staff meetings be held in his living room – an idea opposed by Weiswasser, who proposed instead that Arledge be hooked up by phone.
Eventually, Arledge prevailed and presided over a few meetings in his bathrobe from an easy chair, still connected to a tube. Aides saw a man whose frailty underscored how his standing had been weakened at ABC.
Meanwhile, Arledge's influence was clearly waning. A case in point was his desire to hire CBS News anchor Connie Chung. He wanted Chung to anchor one of two new programs in the works at ABC News – she was promotable, a hard worker and popular with viewers. While Chung expressed loyalty to CBS, Arledge wanted to press ahead with serious negotiations. With the right offer – $2 million or $3 million a year – he thought Chung might be pried loose from CBS.
Weiswasser was unenthusiastic. Rather than spend a fortune on Chung, Weiswasser wanted to test Arledge's dictum that every show needed a star. He noted that CBS News had made a hit of "48 Hours," a show that despite Dan Rather's incidental presence was not star-driven and cost far less than "20/20" or "PrimeTime Live."
The disagreement became moot when Chung opted to stay at CBS. But the experience dispirited Arledge. He complained that Cap Cities wanted him to create new programs, but would not give him the money or freedom to produce them his way.
üext, Arledge and Cap Cities battled over Sam Donaldson. Burke and Weiswasser believed Donaldson was overpaid at $1.7 million a year. "It is not fair," Weiswasser said, "to force the burden of cost-cutting and efficiencies to fall solely on the shoulders of the people who make the least."
This was the case Weiswasser made to Donaldson when they sat down over lunch in March. He liked Sam, he said, but the days of bloated paychecks for every anchor were over. The company wanted Donaldson to take a 50 percent pay cut.
"Steve," he said, "that's not even a basis for a negotiation."
Weiswasser urged him not to take it personally. "I've got a job I have to do," he said.
"Well," Donaldson replied, "I appreciate that, but I'm not going to accept any cut in pay. Not one penny.
"If you had come to me and said, 'We want a 20 percent cut in pay, 15 percent, I would not have accepted it, but I would not have felt as I feel today," he went on. "You have simply insulted me." In his mind, Donaldson prepared to leave ABC.
Arledge, however, girded for battle. The stakes were enormous. He had never lost a major star. He had to keep Donaldson not only to save Sam but to save face.
On Friday, May 29, 1992, Arledge returned to ABC News for the first time since his operation for a meeting with Burke and Weiswasser. They debated the issue for two hours. Arledge argued that "when you have a show that has just turned the corner and become successful, to go break it up over a relatively small amount of money is crazy."
Weiswasser came up with a compromise: a one-year contract that would allow Donaldson to match his current salary provided that the ratings held steady for "PrimeTime."
In effect, they would put Donaldson, a 25-year employee of ABC News, on probation, and challenge him to prove he was worth the money. Reluctantly, Arledge accepted the proposal. With mixed emotions, Donaldson signed the contract and resolved to prove himself in the months ahead.
By this time, the power sharing arrangement between Arledge and Weiswasser had become a power struggle. One anchor said: "Roone is engaged in guerrilla warfare." Everyone knew it couldn't last.
?t didn't. Weiswasser was impatient. The issue went beyond costs, to more fundamental issues of management, teamwork, decision making and long-term planning. Shows and anchors operated as independent duchies, competing rather than cooperating. Stars were indulged.
"I saw an organization that I thought was teetering on the edge of serious calamity," Weiswasser said. "How can you survive competitively in this business if you've got nobody sitting there able to plan much beyond the day after tomorrow?
"I hate to put it this way," he said, "but childish behavior needs discipline."
Arledge described the world around him as "Kafkaesque." He felt unappreciated and undermined and second-guessed, and he could not figure out why. It was as if all his accomplishments meant nothing.
The last and most bitter ëtruggle between Arledge and Weiswasser was personal. It was not about the programs or the anchors or the budget, but about Joanna Bistany, Arledge's top aide and devoted friend. Arledge wanted her promoted. Weiswasser wanted her out.
Bistany's future was put into play during a reorganization of ABC News management demanded by Weis- wasser. His goal was to dilute Arledge's power by granting decision making authority to a new group of vice presidents. The new structure, Weiswasser said, would expedite decision making and develop a cadre of bright, committed executives who could focus on long-term as well as immediate problems.
Arledge thought it was mostly foolishness. He worried that the new structure was designed to isolate him in a figurehead position.
But Arledge was forced to yield. He was being pressed not only by Weiswasser but also by Dan Burke. "Dan wanted a system to be in place so that the news division isn't depending on Roone's idiosyncrasies," said an aide to Burke. Once again, Burke tried to reassure Arledge that he was highly valued as a programmer, and dangled the prospect of a new contract before his news chief. But he made clear that the reorganization would have to be completed first.
Once Arledge agreed to the structure, he and Weiswasser set out to fill the new jobs. Both agreed that Paul Friedman, executive producer of the top-rated "World News Tonight," would take on the most critical post: executive vice president of ABC News. They also agreed that Bob Murphy, a low-key executive who had been in charge of news coverage, would become senior vice president for hard news, overseeing "World News" and "Nightline" as well as coverage. Both Friedman and Murphy had managed to win the approval of Weiswasser while keeping Arledge's confidence. Privately, though both new vice presidents were Cap Cities loyalists.
Friedman especially thought that change was needed at ABC News. In fact, he took his new job only after getting assurances from Cap Cities that he would have significant decision making power. He'd grown impatient with Arledge and had no desire to be his errand boy; instead, he would try to persuade Arledge to focus on programs and leave the day-to-day operations to him.
The third senior vice presidency – a job overseeing the newsmagazine programs – provoked the battle over Joanna Bistany, who had become a controversial figure inside ABC. She was a conduit for those who could not get to Arledge, she stroked the anchor stars, and she could be counted on in a crunch. Most of all, she was the one person who had Arledge's complete trust.
?ut Bistany's critics complained that she lacked experience in production or journalism. Jennings felt she was too close to Arledge. Friedman also opposed her appointment. "It is simply wrong to think that she is anything other than Roone's mouthpiece," said an influential ABC insider. Weiswasser was also determined not to see her advance. "In Steve's mind, Joanna represented the bottleneck and the excuses that Roone could hide behind," said a colleague.
Arledge went to the wall for Bistany. He sought help from Bob Iger, who had become president of the network in December 1992, and pleaded with Dan Burke, to no avail. Arledge was furious. How could the president of ABC News be denied the right to choose his own management team? Arledge eventually agreed to accept Alan Wurtzel, who was then running ABC's audience research department, as his senior vice president for magazine programs.
Inside ABC News, Bistany's failure to get the job was seen as another slap at Arledge. "If he loses Joanna," said an anchor, "he loses his gatekeeper, the confidante, the one person he can trust."
With Stephen Weiswasser gone, Arledge had hopes of regaining control. He had a good relationship with Bob Iger, the new network president, who had worked for him in sports and valued the contribution that News made to ABC. Iger, though, shared the view that Arledge was a gifted programmer but an inattentive and unreliable executive.
"It was clear that a management structure was desperately needed," Iger said. He was determined to support Friedman, Murphy and Wurtzel – if need be, at Arledge's expense.
While Arledge retained authority over major personnel and programming decisions, he played a reduced role in day-to-day matters. "ABC has moved on, past the days when Roone was the supreme head," an anchor said. Arledge's absences grew more frequent, particularly during warm weather. "When Roone gets cornered, he just goes golfing," complained a Cap Cities executive. Arledge denied that he was working less than usual, but his energy and enthusiasm had waned during the summer of 1993.
In some respects, Friedman ran the place, with help from Wurtzel and Murphy. They installed loyalists in key positions and they put together the news division's spending plan for 1994 on their own. Arledge signed off on the budget, but he'd played no part in shaping it.
The Cap Cities people still worried a lot about ABC News. They saw some signs that the network's news dynasty was fraying, as several talented producers departed and NBC's "Nightly News" mounted its most serious challenge in years to "World News Tonight."
As Dan Burke prepared to retire in February 1994, he sometimes wondered whether he had made a mistake by not getting rid of Arledge. But Bob Iger felt strongly that Arledge was worth keeping. Arledge, he thought, still had a fresh eye for programming. As an executive-star, Arledge also brought a certain cachet to ABC News – no other news division president was on a first name basis with former presidents and world leaders. What's more, Iger knew, Ted Koppel and Diane Sawyer would soon begin contract negotiations and Barbara Walters wanted to reopen her deal. They all remained loyal to Arledge. "The news division is a wildly successful division right now," Iger said. "Sometimes, in order to hold onto an important asset, you have to accept some liabilities."
What Burke and Iger needed was a way to hold onto Arledge, at least for a while, without undermining Fried-man, whom they saw as the future of ABC News. They decided to offer Arledge one last lucrative contract as president of ABC News – a contract that would pay him well over $3 million a year.
The new agreement, at least in theory, would keep Arledge in place through July 1996. He would then become the chairman of ABC News, a grand title that would permit him to consult on programming but would remove him from power. There was a catch, though – if Burke or Iger chose to move Arledge up to the chairman's job early, they could do so. That gave them leverage to insist that Arledge play by their rules.
To no one's surprise, Arledge agonized before signing the deal. Ultimately, he did so – the money was a lure, as was the title that would make him feel important even after he stepped down. Much as he hated to think that ABC News could survive without him, Arledge had begun to reconcile himself to the idea that it was time for him to go. l