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Beating the Odds - The Untold Story behind the Rise of ABC.

Beating the odds - The Untold Story behind the Rise of ABC

Beating the odds - The Untold Story behind the Rise of ABC by Leonard H. Goldenson, with Marvin J. Wolf (Scribners, 495 p.) is a remarkable book by the only surviving "giant" of television, the man who created and nurtured the ABC Television Network.

William S. Paley of CBS and David Sarnoff of NBC have passed on, but Leonard Goldenson is very much alive. He's 86 years old, still remarkably energetic and, fortunate for us, commands a prodigious memory which allows him to recreate the inside story of how ABC was born, how it struggled in the face of overwhelming competition and in the face of all odds, how it eventually prospered.

The title Beating the Odds certainly fits the situation because there was a time when the survival of ABC as the third network was very much in doubt.

As CBS was Paley's, and NBC Sarnoff's, ABC depended largely on the innovative brilliance of Goldenson who was not only an outstanding administrator and programmer, but who also had a rare talent for picking top executives who had courage and imagination.

In fact, the names that pop up in this book and who worked under Goldenson - in his Paramount days and at ABC - still read like a who's who of today's film and TV world - Michael Eisner, Brandon Tartikoff, Fred Silverman, Barry Diller, David Wolper, Roone Arledge, Dick Clark, Brandon Stoddard, Fred Silverman, Barbara Walters, Bob Kintner, Peter Jennings and others.

Beating the Odds uses an unusual and extremely effective technique. Whenever Goldenson talks about one of the personalities he introduced to the network, there is a brief interview with them, providing a new perspective on the situation and the job at the time.

But the star of it all, sometimes hidden behind Goldenson's modesty, is the author himself. What emerges is the picture of an immensely likable, dedicated, decent man, who cared deeply not only about improving the network, and maintaining its integrity, but also about his relationships.

In sharp contrast to a Paley, to name just one, Goldenson was a hands-on president, always available, always concerned about the necessary balance between ethics and commerce.

Yet, the book makes it clear that he knew how to be firm, as witness his firing of a number of top people who, by his lights, weren't performing in top gear. Goldenson recognized the need for true leaders to run ABC, and he found them in men like Elton Rule, Fred Pierce and Roone Arledge.

One of the most interesting chapters in the book concerns network news, including episodes involving the famous Barbara Walters-Harry Reasoner feud, the John Scali incident (when the Soviets used the ABC correspondent as a go-between with the White House), the Nixon episode, the MacCarthy hearings coverage etc.

Goldenson throughout the book offers a host of anecdotes in a simple, straightforward style that, along with the numerous interviews, gives the reader the sense of being behind the scenes and involved in momentous decisions, first at Paramount (where he ran the theatre circuit at the age of 32), then at puny ABC, which he merged with Paramount Theatres in a $25 million deal in 1953.

While Goldenson doles out some criticism of personalities (he sounds really bitter about Frank Sinatra, whom he helped push to stardom in the fifties at the Paramount Theatre), comparatively little comes through about his personal life; or for that matter, about his own views of the TV medium.

He does devote a chapter to his late daughter, Cookie, who died of Cerebral Palsy, and in very moving terms, describes what led him and his wife, Isabelle, to establish the United Cerebral Palsy Foundation, to which they both contribute time and money.

He also relates his heart attack, due to overwork, and his anger comes through loud and clear when he speaks of the various attempts, by the Bass Brothers and others, to take over the ABC network. (He talked the Basses out of it.)

Goldenson spans a significant era, and his contribution to it on so many levels, without sacrificing any of his human values, makes this book so fascinating, valuable and, in many ways, so reflective of this extraordinary executive.
COPYRIGHT 1991 TV Trade Media, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:A Guide for Bookworms
Author:Hift, Fred
Publication:Video Age International
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1991
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