Ted Turner has a simple answer for those who question his decision to colorize some 300 classic black and white movies from Turner Broadcasting's extensive - and expensive - collection of film properties - including, most recently, "Casablanca.""I did it because I wanted to do it - and it's mine," he told television critics during a press tour press conference at Universal City's Registry Hotel Wednesday.
"It didn't have to be colorized," he acknowledged. "I just wanted to see what it would look like. That's my right. It's not like I'm hurting the originals or anything. In fact, `Casablanca' has the best colorization we've ever done. I'm proud of it."
If you're reading a certain amount of arrogance into Turner's words, you're only partially right. Add to the cockiness the conviction of a preacher, the bombast of a politician and the aggressive enthusiasm of an Amway salesman. Mix it all together with a little good-humored Southern charm and you've got yourself cable television's first full-scale mogul - the man they call Captain Outrageous.
"I'm amused that there's this big brouhaha over the colorization thing," he said to the critics, many of whom roundly booed the "Casablanca" announcement. "If black and white movies are so terrific, how many films were shot in black and white last year? When was the last time any of you took black and white snapshots of your vacation? "The reason filmmakers didn't shoot in color in those days is the technology just wasn't available to most of them," Turner continued. "Most of those of those movies would have been in color if the producers had had a chance. I'm just giving them that chance a few years after the fact."
A lot of folks in the film industry don't see it quite that way. Woody Allen, for example, has been vocal in his contempt for Turner's "tampering" with pieces of film art. So have movie legends like Jimmy Stewart and Burt Lancaster. And film and television critics have taken him to task in print for his coloring book approach to film restoration.
"It hurts me when I hear that Jimmy Stewart and Burt Lancaster are upset, because they've always been heroes of mine," he said, ripping off his tie ("I hate these deleted deleted things"). "But Woody Allen? How can Woody Allen tell me what to do? I mean, I never tell him what to do in his movies."
And as for the critical reaction, Turner says the controversy actually helps. "The way I see it," he says, "I'd rather have you write and say you disagree with me than not have you mention me at all."
That's sort of the way it is with the man who originated cable's "superstation" concept. No one's ever going to call him "media shy." In fact, he seemed to revel in the attention of the press conference, working the appreciative crowd of reporters like a stand-up comic on a roll.
"To tell you the truth, I'm glad I didn't get CBS," he said of his unsuccessful network takeover bid a couple of years ago. "If I owned CBS, right now I'd have to be trying to please both the broadcasters and the cable people. And that's impossible because it's going to be a war now. It's a battle for viewers, and you've got to choose one side or the other.
"Me? I'm stringing with cable." He laughed at his own joke, and looked around the room to make sure his audience had picked up on it, too. They had.
They had also picked up on Turner's clear challenge to the networks. Changes in network fortunes recently lead Turner to believe cable services can finally compete financially with The Big Three, and he appears ready to fight them on that level. For example, he promises that if he can't get big events like the Oscars and the Emmys for his new TNT big events service, he will at least push the price up "as much as possible so they have less money for movies and miniseries."
And he is delighted to point out that he now owns the rights to "How The Grinch Stole Christmas," CBS's perennial animated Christmas special. "I'm going to hit them with a huge rate increase and hope they don't renew so we can put it on TNT," he said, smiling. "And if they do renew, we'll push it even higher next year. Pretty soon they won't be able to afford it any more - or else I'll own CBS after all."
With all this talk about money and finances, however, Turner seems strangely uncertain about his own. "I feel like I've made a lot of money," he said. "I feel like I'm rich beyond compare."
But when he is asked if it's true that his cable empire is struggling financially, he turns to an employee. "I'm not sure. I think we're doing OK, aren't we? "All I know is, we're still here, we're still hanging on," he concludes. "And things are only going to improve from here. We're going to increase cable penetration around this country to 80 percent in the next 10 years. Our share of the audience is going to increase, and the network shares are going to continue to decline.
"The low budget days of Turner Broadcasting are over," he continued, picking up steam as if new visions were opening up to him even as he spoke. "We're moving out of the slums and onto Park Avenue. From now on it's going to be NFL - no more dirt tracks colleges.
He paused dramatically, then glanced around his audience with an impish grin. "And if the worst thing I'm remembered for is colorizing a few movies," he said, chuckling, "that's OK with me."