BRIAN LAMB, HOST:
Leonard Goldenson, in your new book "Beating The Odds" Warren Buffet writes a
forward. He starts out by saying "I look at Leonard Goldenson and marvel. At
age 84, he is fit, keen-minded and charged with energy. It almost seems
unfair, having accomplished all he has, this man should appear at least a
shade tired. The explanation may be that he's having so much fun. I've never
seen Leonard other than upbeat."
Do you agree?
Mr. LEONARD GOLDENSON, AUTHOR, "BEATING THE ODDS": I agree. I am very enthusiastic about being in the
broadcasting field, doing what I have been doing. I'm very enthusiastic about
writing the book.
LAMB: Most people at your age don't have the chance to do what you're doing.
What do you think that you did right in order to be able to be so active at
Mr. GOLDENSON: I don't know. All I can say is to be very happy doing what
you're doing is a lot more important. I'd hate to be a person who didn't
enjoy what they're doing, really, in working. I--I couldn't wait to get to
the office in the morning.
LAMB: ABC. Obviously everybody knows what that means. What was the toughest
part about making what it is today?
Mr. GOLDENSON: Well, the toughest thing was that getting started--when we
acquired ABC, they had nothing really. They only had their four--four--I mean
five television stations, eight affiliates, which covered only 35 percent of
the country. NBC and CBS already had 85 percent of the country. So it was
rather difficult, as you can see, to compete. It's like Time magazine going
in competition with Newsweek and not getting into Chicago, Detroit, Dallas and
a number of other cities, and basically that, we had to overcome gradually.
If our programs where we did compete in those 13 markets were very strong,
then we'd try to pre-empt some of the programs away from the CBS and NBC
stations for that particular program. But that was tough.
LAMB: What were you doing when you acquired ABC?
Mr. GOLDENSON: I was the head of Paramount's theaters, United Marymount
Theaters. We were separated from Paramount Pictures under the anti-trust
laws, and so I headed the theater group and the moment we separated--see we
did have one television station, one of the first five television stations in
the United States, and I was dedicated to getting into television. And when I
was in the process of talking to Channel 13 in Lo--Los Angeles and Channel 11
in New York, when I heard that Ed Noble, who was the controlling stockholder
of ABC, had refused to give any more money to them, he had loaned them $5
million, and refused to do any more, and the banks refused to give them any
money and I knew that they were about ready to go into bankruptcy and I got in
touch with Ed Noble and worked out a deal.
LAMB: Where did you live then?
Mr. GOLDENSON: In New York.
LAMB: And what year was it?
Mr. GOLDENSON: This was 1951. I made the deal in June of 1951.
LAMB: Where'd you grow up?
Mr. GOLDENSON: Scottdale, Pennsylvania, a little town with a little over
5,000 people near Pittsburgh, oh, 35 miles southwest of Pittsburgh.
LAMB: What took your parents there?
Mr. GOLDENSON: What's that?
LAMB: What took your parents there in the first place?
Mr. GOLDENSON: My father was a merchant in the--in the town, and when he
married my mother, he took her to Scottdale, where we were living.
LAMB: And what--when you grew up, where'd you go to school?
Mr. GOLDENSON: I went to high school in Scottdale and from there I went to
Harvard College and Harvard Law School.
LAMB: How does somebody get from Scottdale, Pennsylvania to Harvard College?
Mr. GOLDENSON: Lucky! Surprisingly, at our high school, you didn't have to
take an examination. Why I don't know. If you were in certain--I guess
certain--10 percent of the class, above the class, so I never took an
examination the whole four years I was in high school. The particular year I
graduated, Harvard passed a rule that if you graduated in the top tenth of
your class, you didn't have to take an examination to get into Harvard, and I
qualified for that. But when I got to Harvard, during football, I went out
for football and I thought it was going to be a lark just like high school, it
came to the November exams and I flunked every one of them. Went on--and I was
in real trouble, and so I made up my mind then and there I was going to go to
work, and I did that and by the time that February came along and I passed the
examinations I went back on the B--Dean's list and was thereafter for the
whole four years.
LAMB: Why law school?
Mr. GOLDENSON: Why law school? I worked in the summertime at Morelander and
Lynch in Pittsburgh. They--largest brokerage firm there and they handled the
Mellon estate accounts and I used to work there in the summertime, and Mr.
Lynch invited me, when I got out of Harvard, to come into the firm. And I
said `Well, I'm not sure I like it.' So what I did was, I graduated Harvard
six months early and went into Morelander and Lynch for nine months. And I
said to Mr. Lynch, `I'm going to determine at the end of this nine months
whether I want to stay in the business.' And I did bu--and I decided I'd
rather not do it, and I decided therefore to go back to law school.
LAMB: And as the--once you got out of law school?
Mr. GOLDENSON: Then I tried to get into the motion picture business on my
way back from Cambridge to Pittsburgh. I stopped in New York and it was the
base of the Depression. Nobody was taking anybody on, and then I went on to
Pittsburgh, took my bar exams, but the particular year that I graduated, Mr.
Lynch's brokerage firm had two la--law firms, and the one that he thought I
ought to go to had two judges' sons graduating that year from the University
of Pittsburgh Law School, and I said to my parents `I don't mind competition,
but this seems pretty tough.' And my mother suggested `why don't you go to New
York, it's the largest city in the country, and we'll back you,' which they
LAMB: What was it about motion pictures that interested you?
Mr. GOLDENSON: When--when I was very--when I was young, my father was a
merchant, but he had an interest in the motion pic--two motion picture
theaters in Scottdale, and I used to go on Saturday--there was no--nothing
showing on Sunday, there was blue wall laws in Pennsylvania. I used to stand
and listen to the people as they came out of the theater or asked them
questions, `why they enjoyed it,' and so I guess it sort of got in my blood.
LAMB: And then why the transfer to television, what was it that detracted you
in the first place to...?
Mr. GOLDENSON: Basically when we separated from Paramount Pictures, under
the anti-trust laws on January 1, 1950, when--my experience with our station
in Chicago, I felt this was the communications medium of the future, and I
wanted to definitely be in it, and that's when I tried to buy stations and
heard--heard that Ed Noble was in trouble and that's when I went in and
bought--merged the company into ABC.
LAMB: Why the title on this book "Beating The Odds"?
Mr. GOLDENSON: Because of the fact that--first place, the bankers had ruled
me--ruled out, they said `This couldn't succeed against NBC and CBS.' The
motion picture industry was absolutely fearful of television. They thought it
was going to drive them out of the business. Thirdly, we just didn't have the
distribution necessary to compete, and so everybody thought that I was in
trouble. And DuMont, which was the fourth network was really--had a wider
circulation than ABC, and that's why--from that point on, it was a struggle
until we could get it on an equal basis with NBC and CBS. It took almost 20
years before we got the network in the black.
LAMB: You give credit in the beginning to your daughter, Loreen Arbus.
Mr. GOLDENSON: Yes.
LAMB: Provided the essential impetus to launch the project, meaning this
Mr. GOLDENSON: Yes.
LAMB: What was her impetus?
Mr. GOLDENSON: She said `I know--I hear everybody says you should write the
book, and you're getting along in years and you ought to do it before it's too
late.' And she--and my wife too--and in addition to that, the people at ABC.
And my problem was I read Paley's book and I read Sarnoff's book and they
really were ego trips, and for years they'd been after me to write and I just
refused. I said `I don't want to go on any ego trip.' So I finally hit on the
idea of hiring Marvin Wolf, a young writer, very capable, to interview at
least 110--115 people I worked with during the years to build ABC. And he
interviewed them all, and they are integrated into the book and I hope
LAMB: Does ABC still own book publishing?
Mr. GOLDENSON: Yes.
LAMB: Did ABC publish this book?
Mr. GOLDENSON: No, no. This--the--the...
LAMB: How come?
Mr. GOLDENSON: Scrib--Scribner.
LAMB: I--I know. You don't own Scribner I--obviously.
Mr. GOLDENSON: No.
LAMB: How come you didn't take the book to your own company?
Mr. GOLDENSON: No, I would--I wouldn't do that. I don't want to ever deal
with my own company.
LAMB: Why's that?
Mr. GOLDENSON: Just a matter of principle.
LAMB: Why did you chose Scribner?
Mr. GOLDENSON: My daughter, Loreen, was friendly with an agent on the West
Coast and he recommended it, and I guess I went along with her recommendation.
LAMB: What do you hope to accomplish with this book?
Mr. GOLDENSON: To set a principle--in principle, the steps that we took to
build ABC. The principles under which we operated; how to build a news
department; how to build a communication with the public as far as
entertainment is concerned; and basically to really give a true history so the
affiliates, and we have 2200 radio affiliates, and we have 201 television
affiliates and the people within the organization, approximately 25,000, to
have them have the history of the development of our--of their company.
LAMB: When did you step down as chief executive officer of ABC?
Mr. GOLDENSON: When I mer--worked out the merger with Cap Cities which
concluded on January 1, 198--1986.
LAMB: And what's your relationship with the company now?
Mr. GOLDENSON: I'm chairman of the executive committee and on the board of
course, but I have nothing to do with the act of management, I didn't want to
because I was approaching 80 years of age when this merger took place and I
thought it was time to pass the baton on to somebody else.
LAMB: What does the chairman of the executive committee do now?
Mr. GOLDENSON: Very little, which is what I wanted. I do sit--look at the
pilots in the fall for the fall season. I look at the pilots that--on--on
February, whatever's going to be reissued in February, and Tom and Dan
const--consult with me from time to time.
LAMB: Tom Murphy.
Mr. GOLDENSON: Tom Murphy and Dan Burke.
LAMB: Dan Burke.
Mr. GOLDENSON: They're president and chairman of the board, and they ask my
advice and counsel on various things and for whatever it's worth, they have
it, they do what they please naturally, and that's the way it should be.
LAMB: When did you start working on the book?
Mr. GOLDENSON: Two years ago.
LAMB: Who's Marvin Wolf?
Mr. GOLDENSON: Marvin Wolf is a young fr--fellow who's written I think four
or five novels. He's written articles in various magazines and I read what he
has--what he'd written and I was impressed that he's done--he could do a good
LAMB: And how did you two work together on this?
Mr. GOLDENSON: Very well. He--independent of--of me, I arranged in each
case, for him to interview with the various people. I called them in advance
and said I wanted them to say everything that he asked them to do, tell
the--tell the truth no matter how it hurts, or if it does hurt, and he did
that. And I hope that he accomplished it.
LAMB: Let me jump into the middle of the book, page 272, and the title of
this chapter, 15, is network news. "Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin
brought his anti-communist witch hunt to a climax in 1954. With 36 days of
hearings into red influence into the army, ABC aired all 187 hours of the
hearings live from the moment McCarthy gaveled the room to order to the minute
he ended the Ft. Monmouth, New Jersey proceedings." Why did you do that?
Mr. GOLDENSON: Well, first place, ABC at that time had very little in the
daytime. NBC and CBS, after covering it the first day as--as we did, they
decided not to cover it thereafter except maybe in little excerpts in the
evening news. I felt by all means that we should do a public service
over--even though we could ill-afford to do it, because I felt that McCarthy,
in this particular case, was a demagogue and trying to establish his own
principles and I felt the public ought to decide whether he was or was not,
and by ca--covering the hearings, that could be accomplished one way or
another and it proved itself.
LAMB: You say in the third paragraph "This exercise in public service cost us
upward of $600,000." Now that was in 1954.
Mr. GOLDENSON: Yes.
LAMB: Any idea what that would translate into...
Mr. GOLDENSON: Today.
Mr. GOLDENSON: Oh probably--oh, probably six, seven, eight times that.
LAMB: You say "Which we could ill-afford then, but I felt very strongly," as
you just said, "as I feel right now that McCarthy was no good."
Mr. GOLDENSON: Uh-huh.
LAMB: Just want to ask you whether or not news decisions are made on the
basis of how people feel strongly for and against something. In other words,
if--if you didn't feel strongly about this would you have still covered it?
Mr. GOLDENSON: I possibly would have. I felt very strongly, however, that
it's something that the public should have the opportunity of hearing and
making a decision as to why or how he should be handled.
LAMB: How come you didn't keep it up--more hearings? Continue to do the
Mr. GOLDENSON: That--that was the end of the hearing.
LAMB: No, I meant after those were over, more congressional hearings after
that, why wasn't that...
Mr. GOLDENSON: No, I didn't think it was necessary. I think hearing him on
a one-to-one basis with all the people he had before him I felt did the job.
LAMB: I guess my question was why you didn't do more hearings of other issues
and other things at that time? Was it not cost effective?
Mr. GOLDENSON: No, I never gave any thought to it. I just felt that this
was in and of itself was the important thing to do.
LAMB: Couple of pages later, you said `Just after Kennedy was elected
president in November 1960, I had a call from Senator John Pastore. He
chaired the Senate Communications subcommittee which had oversight of the
broadcasting industry. Pastore asked me down to Washington,' and then I'll
quote you, "I know you're,"--he--quote him, "I know you're making some
progress," talking to you, "and I know you're losing money, but I think you've
got to start addressing yourself to the news problem."' Why would--what was
your reaction when you had a senator as chairman of the communications
committee saying that to you?
Mr. GOLDENSON: Well, Senator Pastore took a real definite interest in
broadcasting. It was in his formative stages really, and he--I think he was
doing it as a friend and he felt that the time had come. All we had up till
then was a 15 minute-news with John Dailey, and John Dailey ran the news
department besides that, and he said I think you've got to start really going
after it in a competitive fashion, and I couldn't disagree. Up to that time
we were losing a lot of money, and I just couldn't afford it, but I felt the
time had come even though we were losing money we had to address ourself to
it, and it was with that I went to see President Eisenhower and asked him if
it--had any objection to my talking to Jim Haggerty, his press secretary,
`I'll bring him in to head up our news.' And he said `it would be o--perfectly
OK,' and when the president's term expired, Jim Haggerty came in and he
started setting it up. He brought in Bill Lawrence, who was White House
correspondent for the New York Times. He brought in John Scali who was a
foreign cor--foreign correspondent, Howard K. Smith, who had been an anchor,
co-anchor at CBS, and brought in other people and we started really in a very
small way to establish a news department. After a couple of years, Jim
Haggerty came to me an he said `You know, I really am not an administrator.'
He said `This is going to be establishing a worldwide organization.' He said
`I think I'm better qualified to handle corporate relations rather than the
news.' And I didn't disagree with him and it was then we went all out and got
Elmer Lauer who was really third in command at NBC News and we brought him in
to head up our news department and he started to build a news department for
LAMB: Go back to Senator Pastore, he says to you, when--when you came down,
`If you ever are going to build ABC in the eyes of the Senate and the House in
Washington generally, you're going to have to build your news operation.' Why
would you care about building ABC in the eyes of the Senate and the House?
Mr. GOLDENSON: For one reason, after all, we do not own the public airways,
the public owns that and we as a licensee are really subject to whatever
control is exercised, if it is ever exercised by--by the FCC and by the Senate
and the House. If they are critical of what's being done, I mean, the FCC
will pay notice, and therefore I think it's absolutely imperative if you're
running a network, you must have a good news department, otherwise you're not
really rendering a public service, which you should.
LAMB: At any point in this process did you feel the hot breath of the
government breathing down your neck?
Mr. GOLDENSON: No I didn't. I don't think that he was approaching it from
that standpoint. He was approaching it as a friend in trying to help us build
a third network.
LAMB: Remember in another book that was written about William Paley, one of
your colleagues from the other network, in which during the Eisenhower
administration, he worked in the administration for a while. Did--you know,
we've spent--seen a lot of couple written over the last few years about
government getting too close to television and the media and vice versa. Did
you get a sense--I mean, back--back in those days, this kind of thing wasn't
at all sensitive?
Mr. GOLDENSON: No. I didn't ag--I--Pastore really approached it in my
judgment as a friend. He said he felt that they very well could be critical
if we didn't address ourself to this thing more seriously and I couldn't
quarrel with that. I've always felt that if you're going to run a network,
you're going to have an outstanding news department as--as a public service.
LAMB: Another line on this page--"Johnson telephoned often."
Mr. GOLDENSON: Yes.
LAMB: What Johnson? Who--what--which one?
Mr. GOLDENSON: Lyndon Johnson.
LAMB: What was he telephoning about?
Mr. GOLDENSON: If on the air a reporter would say something inconsistent
with what he thought should be said, he'd call and criticize it. This has
been true of a lot of presidents. You know, you can be very objective in your
appearance to the news, but if you're dealing with a subject that they're very
sensitive about, you're not saying enough in their favor, even though it would
lack objectivity by doing so. So naturally you'd get calls.
LAMB: Did you ever--you say here, the last sentence, "We never bowed to any
Mr. GOLDENSON: No. We...
LAMB: Did you ever do anything that a president asked you to do when it came
to the news report?
Mr. GOLDENSON: If we were lacking objectivity I would, but we checked out
our news in every instance and never found it to be lacking in objectivity.
LAMB: Did you ever think your license were threatened?
Mr. GOLDENSON: No, never.
LAMB: Never concerned you.
Mr. GOLDENSON: Never concerned me.
LAMB: Another item in this network news page--chapter "...but that didn't
mean we ignored the news. I'd inherited a weekend news commentary program
featuring Drew Pearson." Who was Drew Pearson?
Mr. GOLDENSON: Drew Pearson was a columnist operating out of Washington.
Jack Anderson, I think, has now succeeded him, and basically I felt as a
columnist, and on--as a columnist on the air, that he was biased, and
therefore I was careful to say that we shouldn't have him on the air.
LAMB: Said "But he has a right-wing, conspiratorial viewpoint." Did that
give you trouble back in those days?
Mr. GOLDENSON: Yes, it did.
LAMB: People call and complain.
Mr. GOLDENSON: Comments, criticism and prop--and properly so.
LAMB: Have you--have you had anybody since then that you felt was biased in
any way like that?
Mr. GOLDENSON: I don't think so. Where--if we did have somebody who was
very conservative, we tried to have somebody on the opposite side that was on
the liberal side so that it could be balanced and the public could make a
determination as to the issue involved.
LAMB: You make a statement here on page 282: "I believe that small fact has
remained a secret until now," and that small fact had to do with John Scali
and the fact that you knew something during the Cuban missile crisis that you
didn't tell anybody until you wrote this book, and what was that?
Mr. GOLDENSON: Basically he had been approached by the K--a representative
of the KGB, actually it was later found out he was the head of the KGB in the
United States. He had approached John Scali and said that he was representing
Kuznetsov and that basically they would be willing to withdraw the missiles
from Cuba if the United States would agree not to attack. He brought that to
the head of our news, and they in turn to me, and he said naturally as a
newsman, he should report this as a news thing, but in the public interest if
it could--was a way to try to resolve this nu--Cuban missile crisis, I felt
very strongly, as did our head of our news, we should take him out of the news
department, give him a sabbatical leave until such time as this thing could be
carried out to its full conclusion, and he did, he reported to Rusk in the
news department, kept in active touch with him and with Kennedy and eventually
it was resolved and Kennedy and his people said that it was due in great part
to what John Scali did.
LAMB: Were you uncomfortable knowing that during that period?
Mr. GOLDENSON: Not uncomfortable in the sense that we withdrew him as a--as
a news reporter for us.
LAMB: Do you think that's a good thing for a--the news--I mean, do you think
that's something that--that will happen more often or should happen more
Mr. GOLDENSON: I--I'm not sure it will happen very often, but I think if
there's a public interest involved, there's nothing more important than
carrying out a principle that saves the country or saves the people from
damage or harm or what not and rather than judge or jump in to take a cue on
this particular thing, I think you have to be very objective and very careful
to do the right thing.
LAMB: Somewhere in your book you say that ABC News is number one today.
Mr. GOLDENSON: Yes.
LAMB: How do you--explain how it's number one.
Mr. GOLDENSON: Well, number one, it's the ratings. On the prime time news
we're number one, have been for over a year and a half. Before that time,
even in the top 50 markets we were number one for several years. In so far as
other programs that we have on like Ted Koppel and "Nightline," such as we
have an early morning news, "Good Morning, America," the news accompanies
that; Dave Brinkley on Sunday morning; and I think within the business itself,
I think everybody recognizes that ABC not only has top manpower but is doing
an outstanding job and it's reflected in the ratings.
LAMB: When was the first time you ever did a nightly newscast?
Mr. GOLDENSON: First time what?
LAMB: First year you ever did a nightly newscast on ABC?
Mr. GOLDENSON: Well we--when I--when I acquired ABC, John Dailey had his
15-minute news on.
LAMB: It was on then.
Mr. GOLDENSON: It was on then.
LAMB: Every night.
Mr. GOLDENSON: Every night, five nights a week.
LAMB: Comp--five nights a week, competing against who at that time?
Mr. GOLDENSON: Cronkite and Huntley-Brinkley.
LAMB: And how were--how was ABC doing in the ratings?
Mr. GOLDENSON: Terrible. I don't even know we were in the--I don't think we
were in the race at all.
LAMB: That was in the--in the mid '50s.
Mr. GOLDENSON: Mid '50s.
LAMB: Let me read a line here from page 287: "Devastating as that
day was, however the death of this president, and the astonishing, often
bizarre events of the day that followed served to propel ABC News into the
modern era of television journalism." The death of President Kennedy, why did
it propel ABC into the era of modern television journalism?
Mr. GOLDENSON: Well, basically it was an event that worldwide brought the
attention of everybody to this event. We had an affiliate in Dallas, B-low
Company, that served with us to bring to the public the very best in the way
of coverage of the event, and what happened after the event, and I think we
really handled it with almost--I think as well as CBS and NBC and I think the
public felt so as a result of it.
LAMB: Would you say that the Gulf War the same kind of a defining moment for
Mr. GOLDENSON: I think so. I think there's a distinction between CNN and
ABC and I think it'll be recognized. CNN is a headlined type of news, and
they did a very effective job, and I think we cover our news a little more in
depth, and I think the public responded to our news also because we ended up
with a very high rating.
LAMB: What do you th--do you worry about CNN, you know, replacing the
importance of the three commercial networks?
Mr. GOLDENSON: I don't really. My own feeling is that CNN is a headline
news type of approach. Being on 24 hours a day, round the clock, they have to
be, whereas we do not have to be on that type of schedule and can spend more
time on the more important issues.
LAMB: "ABC"--you write this--"went to a half hour of evening news in 1967.
There was a period for about a year, for example, in the mid '60s, when our
evening news wasn't on a single station in the entire state of Ohio." How
could you function when you couldn't--I mean you couldn't--what was the reason
that O--none of the Ohio stations would carry your news?
Mr. GOLDENSON: Because we'd gone from a 15-minute news to a half-hour news
and the stations make a lot of money in that dinner time period and it took us
a while to convince them that we did have a credible news department and
therefore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Akron and Columbus wou--didn't carry our
news. But we eventually established in their minds that we did have a
competitive news and therefore they started to carry it.
LAMB: I want to jump to a--one of the people that writes--that Marvin Wolf
interviewed in here was Barbara Walters.
Mr. GOLDENSON: Yes.
LAMB: By the way, why did you feel it necessary to pay her a million dollars
Mr. GOLDENSON: That's the only way we could get her.
LAMB: Was it worth the money?
Mr. GOLDENSON: Yes. She's been--done a admirable job. As an example, it
was publicized around the world that she'd received a million dollars a year
or more. When she would call Sadat of Egypt, no problem, he'd recog--called
her the `million-dollar-a-year girl.' She called--whoever she called, she got
an entree to them to--to ask them, or do whatever she felt was necessary to
get the news from them.
LAMB: Did it ever concern you that this started the whole business of paying
large salaries to news people?
Mr. GOLDENSON: It may have concerned me, but competitively, you try to do
the best you can, and it's paid off as far as we're concerned.
LAMB: Do you think it will continue forever?
Mr. GOLDENSON: No. How far up is up? I don't know. I wish I could answer.
It's the same problem that you have in baseball, same thing football, same
thing in Hollywood. As to program costs, I don't know what the up--one day it
probably will resolve--will all resolve itself, when, I can't an--cannot
LAMB: She wrote in this--or she at least spoke in this--in your book here,
she says "After I was hired and went to the affiliates' meeting, I made a big
declarative speech on behalf of the one-hour news. Then," she says, "I was
practically booed out of there. ABC didn't have the guts to push it through,
the commitment evaporated." Is she talking about you?
Mr. GOLDENSON: Talking about our whole organization, and the answer to it
is, if the affiliates wouldn't take the news, other than the half hour, and
NBC and CBS that were in a stronger position than we were, could only have a
half-hour news at dinner time, if they couldn't get it through, how could we
because we didn't have the circulation at that time that they did.
LAMB: Why won't the networks--or will the networks ever go to one-hour news?
Mr. GOLDENSON: Only if the affiliates will agree to it.
LAMB: How did it work during the Gulf situation when there were...
Mr. GOLDENSON: There we pre-empted and they--generally speaking they carried
it because it was necessarily a serious problem that the public was aware of
and wanted to know and therefore they allowed it, but the moment after three
or four days, it went back to a half-hour news.
LAMB: One of the other things that struck me as being interesting because
you're such a large organization today, you say here "When we first
established a Washington bureau, we maintained only three cameras and
two--three cameramen and two sound men. Today each network needs between 15
and 20 crews available there." And then you go on to talk about you always
thought it was a waste of time, manpower and money for all three networks to
cover the same kind of events. Have you been able to change that?
Mr. GOLDENSON: Yes. I think they're pooling certain things now. Not--not
with respect to editorial portion but where the--where the president, as an
example, has a--comes forward with a press discussion or press--all three
networks should--should be able to cover that and really--and deliver it to
each respective network, and then it can be picked up by whoever we want to
have it picked up by and it would save money. Actually years ago on
elections, each of the networks used to have separate people doing a study as
to how the thing was going as far as an election night was concerned. And I
went to Frank Stanton, I said `Frank, why can't we pool...'
LAMB: Who was Frank Stanton?
Mr. GOLDENSON: He was the head of CBS, president, Bill Paley was chairman of
the board. I said `Why can't we pool our resources?' I said that the public
will not be harmed if we get--decide to each take up a certain portion of the
United States, feed it into a computer and everybody have that material
available as to how the election is going and then each company will have its
own editorial person take hold and advise the public as to how they want to do
it. And basically that's the way it's done except now the AP and UP joined it
and the five of us really--now in every election we do it in a pool form.
LAMB: Does ABC News make money?
Mr. GOLDENSON: Yes.
LAMB: Lots of money?
Mr. GOLDENSON: Well I don't know what you mean by lots.
LAMB: Is it one of the big profit centers for the network?
Mr. GOLDENSON: No, but is it--it is a profit center.
LAMB: What makes--what--what's the best thing about ABC News that makes the
money? Is it the "Nightline," or the...?
Mr. GOLDENSON: "Nightline" does very well, "20/20" does very well, "Good
Morning, America" does very well. And our evening news still does--now does
very well, so they all are making money.
LAMB: In the book, a lot of people call you a visionary. They said you were
way ahead of your time when you got into ABC. So when I ask you about
the--the future, where's ABC News going to be 10 years from now? What's going
to be different about it?
Mr. GOLDENSON: That's hard for me to answer except one thing: I think
eventually cable will have at least 40 to 60 cable channels into the home. I
think cable is going to become more like radio, that you're going to have a
specific audience you're going to address yourself to. We have it--we have
three cable networks: We have ESPN, which is sports; we have Arts and
Entertainment, which caters to the articulate minority; and we have Lifetime,
which caters to women. I think each of these networks of ours and others will
try to select a segment of the audience that they can concentrate on as radio
At the present time, in prime time, 63 percent of the homes are covered by the
networks, that's down from 93 percent some years back. I think it's starting
to level off as to the amount that will be down and I estimate possibly 58
percent to 60 percent will be the number of people tuning into the networks in
prime time, and if that is true, by the year 2000, you will have 100 million
homes as compared with 89 million right now, and if you get 58 percent to 60
percent, say 60 percent, would be 60 million homes, it still is going to be
the biggest audience that any medium has or ever will have really, and so I
think that the networks will continue to go for the mass audience and cable
will go for the selective audience, as I view it.
LAMB: Do you ever see ABC getting into an all news situation? I mean, I know
you started it...
Mr. GOLDENSON: For cable?
LAMB: I know you got into it...
Mr. GOLDENSON: For cable?
LAMB: ...with Westinghouse.
Mr. GOLDENSON: Westinghouse, yes. I'm sorry that it ha--we didn't, but
unfortunately I couldn't handle the losses it would require at the time. I
just acquired ESPN which was losing about $35-40 million, and the news
operation was costing about $80 million and between the two, it would be too
much of a load to carry by ourselves and I didn't know how long it would take
to turn it into the black, so I had to forego taking on the--the new CNN's
LAMB: Do you think they'll--that ABC will ever go back to that?
Mr. GOLDENSON: I don't know. I--I really cannot answer it. I think the
time has passed you when you can get the television stations, I mean the
ca--the different cable owners to take your news. I don't know. There may be
alternative things developing, maybe satellite--you may--satellite news in a
different form into the home, I don't know.
LAMB: You also talk about conventions, political conventions, and you did
something--when did you first start going gavel to gavel with conventions?
Mr. GOLDENSON: We did that originally.
LAMB: What year, do you remember, '56, '60?
Mr. GOLDENSON: It was around '56.
LAMB: When did you stop doing that?
Mr. GOLDENSON: Well, we were losing a lot of money, and in getting--in so far
as the public is concerned, they were not turning into it, and I felt very
strongly, and I talked to our news people about it. I mean, if the public
wasn't interested in the conventions, per se, from gavel to gavel, maybe we
ought to restrict ourself to the key times when the key people were on--on the
television area. And actually it worked out well. You know, in the political
situation today, the political parties carry--three, four, five days, people
walk all around this--I mean, it's like the horse and buggy days as far as the
presentation of their issues. The public laughs at it, they don't tune into
it, and I don't think--I think the political parties have got to take stock of
the best way to reach the public, and they can't do it the way they're doing
LAMB: Got any recommendations for them?
Mr. GOLDENSON: Yes, I would say that they ought to limit themselves to a few
days instead of four days, and they should stop carrying on all the speeches
which nobody listens to and I think they ought to restrict themselves
LAMB: Under the "Team Arledge" chapter, who's Roone Arledge?
Mr. GOLDENSON: Roone Arledge is a person who graduated Columbia School of
Journalism--do you want me to give you a background of him?
LAMB: Well, I--in--in other words, how'd he come to ABC?
Mr. GOLDENSON: I'll tell you how. In 1960, I felt we ought to try to go out
for football and we went after the NCAA that NBC had for years, and we were
able to get it, but we didn't have any people to put it on. So a fellow by
the name of Ed Sherrick of Anser Fitzgerald advertising agency had a small
sports network and I went to them and I said `Ed, I'd like to take over your
company, and come--I want you to come in and handle our sports,' which I did.
After about a year or so he came into me and said that he no longer wanted to
do the sports, he wanted to do get into sales and programming for the network.
And I said `You're crazy! That's why we acquired you.' And he said `Well, I
have a young fellow with me called Roone Arledge, and I think he can do the
job.' And that's how we got Roone Arledge.
LAMB: What impact has he had on ABC News?
Mr. GOLDENSON: On news or sports?
Mr. GOLDENSON: News, fantastic.
LAMB: What did he do to--to make it different so that you'd be--you could
become number one?
Mr. GOLDENSON: He has brought in back--people to back up the main principles
of the news. He's been very creative in anticipating things that are going to
happen so that he has the news people in the right place at the right time.
And in so far as presentation of the news is concerned, I think that he's
handled that as well as anybody possibly can.
LAMB: You know, when the books are sent out, they often send out publicity
sheets with them and I don't even know if you've seen your publicity sheet but
it's--it's so good that I want to just--I want to--it capsulizes some of the
things in this book and I want to ask you--I'm just going to go down the list
here. I couldn't do better if I'd have...
Mr. GOLDENSON: Did we issue this just lately?
LAMB: Yeah, it was issued by Charles Scribner and Sons. And it says--it says
the book reveals--and it's got a whole bunch of things it reveals...
Mr. GOLDENSON: I haven't seen it.
LAMB: Just want to ask you, I mean, this--some of this stuff is--is really
interesting. It's in here, but--"Why a young Mike Wallace left ABC for a
lesser job at CBS?"
Mr. GOLDENSON: Well John Dailey, as I said, was in charge of the news, and
he also was on the 15-minute evening news. Mike Wallace took the position
that anything that was good that came along, John Dailey grabbed it for
himself, and that anybody who was a reporter did--couldn't have a chance. And
so when he said he was going over to CBS, I asked him, he said that, and I
couldn't blame him, he was right. But we weren't ready at that time to bring
in somebody to head up our news until I brought in Jim Haggerty.
LAMB: "The book reveals how Jerry Lewis embarrassed Goldenson on a live
Mr. GOLDENSON: We put him on on a Saturday night for two hours. We kept
after him for weeks and weeks and weeks to tell us what format he was going to
have, and he kept saying `Oh, it's going to be great.' He came on the air, and
he kept referring to me, 10, 20, 15 times during the program, which doesn't
mean a thing. I mean, he's supposed to entertain. And we became absolutely
disgusted the way he handled himself, and after three weeks, and he did badly,
we pulled him off.
LAMB: "How a simple publicity stunt created Frank Sinatra's enduring legend,
and how after Goldenson helped make Sinatra rich, the singer insulted him,
beginning a 25-year feud."
Mr. GOLDENSON: Frank Sinatra--Bob Whiteman, who ran our Paramount Theater in
New York, had gone to New Jersey, there was at a little bar or something, and
he saw Frank Sinatra, who was not known at all at that time, and he brought
him into the Paramount Theater. And when Frank Sinatra came on, Bob had
arranged with a group of young kids, that when he came on some of them would
faint, some of them would scream, so forth, so on. It was picked up by the
press, and that's what made Frank Sinatra. It was carried all over the United
States. When Frank--after Frank was married to Ava Gardner, divorced,
married, and lived in Spain, apparently he got tired of standing around, not
doing anything and he came back to the United States, and we went over to the
Riviera Club in New Jersey where he was appearing and--to get him into the
Paramount Theater for a personal appearance and I said `Frank, do you have any
money?' And he said `No, I don't.' I said `Well,' I said `Capital gains only
cost 25 percent tax wise, income, you have to pay 75 percent for tax,' I said
`Maybe I can work out with your agent something whereby you'll have a capital
gains deal and have some keeping money.' And--which I did. Now at that time,
he had come over from Spain and appear in "From Here To Eternity." We didn't
know, nor did he know at that time that he was going to be good. As it later
turned out, that picture was released, he received an Academy Award, and he
was impossible. We put on a half-hour program as a result of the deal and I
put up $3 million in a company that he was going to own, and he would put in
that company as a collateral, interest that he would have in certain pictures.
If you know the picture business, when you--as far as the profit on pictures,
you very rarely find it. He sort of kissed off the program. The first night
he had Bob Hope on and went fine. Second night he came in the last minute and
went through I don't know, fundamentals of finding out what it was all about,
but didn't pay attention, and within a few weeks it was no good and we had to
pull it off. So I called Abe Blasvogel, his agent, and said `Abe, he's
kissing this thing off,' but I said `we want to get our money back. I'd like
to work out series of specials for him, and I think in that way we can get our
money back.' And Abe said `I agree with you.' And he arranged for me to meet
him at Las Vegas at Sands Hotel. I went out there with Tom Moore, who was our
program man, and we was supposed to meet him at a certain time and he didn't
show. He sent somebody down who said `He can't--he's occupied now, but
we'll--we'll see you tomorrow.' Never showed the next day, all day. On the
third day, this person came down, said `He's still tied up,' but he never
showed. And I sat down and wrote a long-hand letter to him. I said `I cannot
understand a man--we're--helped you get started, and then when you were broke
we helped you get some money insofar as you were concerned. And to absolutely
disregard a date that was set up by your agent,' I said `as far as I'm
concerned, I don't want to have anything more to do with you.' And I
had--didn't for 25 years.
I'm co-chairman--I mean, I chairman of the United Cerebral Palsy, and we
usually have a dinner the night that it's going to open and Jack Houseman, who
co-founded it with me, my wife invited Frank Sinatra and his wife to dinner
and they were sitting at my table.
LAMB: How long ago?
Mr. GOLDENSON: How long ago? About four years ago. And so that evening he
was at my table, I was the host, so I went over and I said `Frank, let's
bury the hatchet,' and we shook hands, but I still never felt warm to
him based on the way he handled himself.
LAMB: Back to the publicity release here: "The book reveals that Goldenson
carried personal messages from the pope to Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin,
and how Peter Jennings got Sadat to agree to visit Israel, but Walter Cronkite
got the credit for it."
Mr. GOLDENSON: Well, in the book, as far as the pope is concerned, after he
was named pope...
LAMB: Which pope?
Mr. GOLDENSON: Hmm?
LAMB: Which pope?
Mr. GOLDENSON: The present pope. He wanted to go back to Poland, his home,
and we had our news department cover him, audio, video, everywhere he went, to
his cronies that he talked to and the discussions that went on, so forth and
so on, and so we had the complete record of his trip back to Poland. And so I
made arrangements to meet him, with my wife, in Rome, and I presented this to
him, and he was so excited about it, he said that `I'm not going to let this
get into the archives, I'm going to keep this in my bedroom so I can look at
it from time to time.' And I said `Well,' I said `we're to go from here down
to Egypt, going to see Sadat, and then I'm going over to see Begin in Israel.
Do you have anything to say--that you might say to them?' And he said `I hope
they can work out their problem in peace.'
When I got to--we got to Egypt, we went up to Alexandria, which was a summer
place of Sadat's and he and his wife, my wife and I met. We spent
two and a half hours with them, and basically, he indicated, he said he was
looking forward to working out a favorable arrangement with Israel. He felt
Israel could bring to Egypt, turn that desert into green fields, such as they
had done in Israel, and vice versa. He said `I think we can make contribution
to Israel.' And basically he talked as a real statesman.
I then went over to Israel to see Begin, and I--and we spent an hour or two
with him, and I said `Insofar as I'm concerned, and speaking only as a--as a
company that judge--trying to judge a person's steps, I think you're too
arbitrary. I think the American public thinks you're too stubborn.' And I
said `As far as Sadat is concerned, he's handling himself like a real
statesman and I think you ought to address yourself to that problem.' It
went in one ear and the out--out--out the other ear. The two got off on a
tangent of one time in Poland and things of that--and nothing to do with it,
and we left after about, as I said, an hour, hour and a half and his public
relations people followed us out and said `You're absolutely right in telling
him what you did.' But he said `We--we've tried and can't do anything with
him.' And so that three weeks--three--four, four weeks later, Sadat was shot
and that was the end. Great statesman, great opportunity. I hated to see it
LAMB: "The book reveals how Goldenson made a media star out of Golda Meir."
Mr. GOLDENSON: Insofar as Golda Meir, I noticed when she came to United
States, she'd sit down with "Punch" Sulzberger at the New York Times and his
editorial board or Kay here in...
LAMB: Kay Graham…
Mr. GOLDENSON: Kay Graham here in Wash--Washington Post. And I said to
myself, `why should she limit herself just to the newspaper?' So with my wife
and daughter, I went to Israel and had an appointment with her, 9:00 in the
morning, and she came a few minutes late, said that she'd been tied up with
Moshe Dayan, who was trying to boit--bolt the party, and she had to keep
everybody together 'cause it was very fragile as to control and she said,
`what is it you want?' And I said, `well, I notice when you come to the United
States, you sit down either with the New York Times or the Washington Post.
Why don't you sit down with all the people?' I said `I can arrange to have the
Post as well as the New York Times present. I'll have the magazine people
present. I'll have the top broadcasters, both radio and television present
and then you're talking to all the people.' She said, `well, let me look at
it.' And I get a call about, oh, four--five weeks after that. She called and
said, `I'd like to take you up on that,' and at our building in New York, ABC
Building, I had about 100 people and invited the people I said I would, they
all were present, and then I invited some top officers of some of the
companies like Exxon and she spoke to them, and after that, every time she
came to New York, she'd call, and I'd have that lunch.
I offered the same thing to Sadat. Unfortunately, he was shot and didn't
come, but he was ready to do it also.
LAMB: "The book reveals why Goldenson went skinny-dipping with Lyndon Johnson
in the White House pool and how President Johnson flaunted a blind trust
arrangement to keep ABC's NCAA football games on his Austin TV station."
Mr. GOLDENSON: Well as far as Lyndon Johnson is concerned, when he first ran
for Congress, Carl Harbert Searle, who was our 50/50 partners in the state of
Texas in the theaters, called me and he said `Leonard, there's a young fellow
going to run for office, and I think we ought to support him by giving him
$10,000 for his campaign.' And I said `Carl, you're running our theaters and
if you feel that should be done, naturally go right ahead and do it.' And he
was elected and after he le--was elected, he came to New York and wanted to
meet me and I did meet with him and he would call me from time to time on many
He invited me down for a given day, for lunch and he said, `before we go to
lunch, lets go swimming.' And I said, `well, I didn't bring any bathing suit
or anything like that.' He said `Who needs a bathing suit.' He said, `we'll go
in the--just the way we are in--in our natural skin,' which we did and then we
went up to his apartment and had lunch and then he invited me into the
bedroom. He said, `I'd like to talk to you.' And he sat on the can, and I sat
on his bed, and he said, `You know, these Kennedys, they supposedly have a
blind trust.' He said, `I know they know everything that's going on, they're
handling it, and so forth and so on,' and he said, `yet, I get criticized as
the vice president that I'm doing something in connection with our television
station in Austin.' And he said, `It's terrible the way they handle things the
way they do.' About, oh, four months later, we acquired the NCAA football and
our people had come in to me and said, `You know, he has a VHF station and
there's two UHF stations and we're getting most of our clearance on this UHF
station and he's not giving us any clearances on his VHF and we think we ought
to support the UHF.' And I said, `I can't quarrel with that. I think you
should.' So they sold the UHF station and they sold the VHF station, the
Austin op--I mean Johnson station that we were taking the games away from
them. I get a call from Lyndon. He said, `Lyndon, you and I have been
friends for years. You can't take those football games away from me. You're
going to put in a little UHF station and they won't have the people to see it
and whatnot.' And I said, `Well Mr. President, our people tell me you're not
releasing any of our prod--product on your station. They're only getting into
the market through the UHF station and we feel we ought to support them.' He
said `Oh,' he said, `I'm sure that's not true.' And I said, `Well, Mr.
President, I think you ought to look into it.' So he calls me back, he said,
`Well, maybe they haven't been doing too well with you,' but he said, `I'm
going to see to it that it's taken care of, but I have to have those football
games.' He said, `I'm going to have Clark Clifford get into this, and I'll see
to it that it's worked out.' Now here's a man who is critical of the Kennedys
with his blind trust and he was in a blind trust that he--didn't make any
difference to him.
LAMB: What you--we--about out of time. What'd you think of him?
Mr. GOLDENSON: Huh?
LAMB: What'd you think of him overall...
Mr. GOLDENSON: He's a politician, basically.
LAMB: That's all you want to say?
Mr. GOLDENSON: That's all I want to say.
LAMB: This is what the book looks like. It's called "Beating The Odds," and
the author of the book is Leonard H. Goldenson, who for lots of years
operated the ABC television networks.
Thank you very much for joining us.
Mr. GOLDENSON: Enjoyed. Nice being here.
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