CBS Inc. Chairman Thomas H. Wyman yesterday denied rumors that management is considering a leveraged buyout of the company that would transfer ownership of the network to a private group.
Wyman's statement was part of CBS's effort to discredit reports that the company is about to change ownership. Those rumors have increased this week, along with the price and daily trading volume of CBS shares. CBS stock, which a week ago was 88 3/8, closed yesterday at 105 5/8, down 5/8, with more than 1.1 million shares changing hands.
Speculation about CBS has mounted since Capital Cities Communications Inc. announced Monday that it had agreed to acquire American Broadcasting Cos. Inc. for about $3.5 billion in a friendly takeover that would transfer ownership of a TV network for the first time. Some analysts believe ABC agreed to be taken over by Capital Cities to avoid becoming the target of a hostile takeover bid.
On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that broadcasting magnate Ted Turner told lawyers for CBS on Monday that he has held discusssions with Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and the conservative Fairness in Media group about launching a joint bid for control of CBS.
"I have not aligned myself with him Helms ," Turner said Wednesday, in a speech at the University of Pennsylvania. "I talked with him. Just because you talk with somebody. . . . I've talked with Norman Lear, I've talked with Fidel Castro, but I like Jesse Helms and I like Fidel Castro."
Turner told The Washington Post yesterday, "I had a conversation with him Helms . That is all I did." Interviewed prior to a conference on East-West trade at Duke University, Turner said, "I have tremendous respect for Sen. Helms and his position, but I also have tremendous respect for people on the other side of the aisle."
Turner has told Helms and Fairness in Media that he would agree to join them in their bid to gain control of CBS only if they would agree to his terms, sources said yesterday. Those terms reportedly included allowing Turner to run the CBS network if the bid were successful and allowing him to manage the CBS network in the same way he manages his other news operations -- Cable News Network and WTBS, the Atlanta superstation.
"I suggested that I had the qualifications to run a network and that was my interest in meeting him Helms ," Turner told CBS lawyers in a deposition on Monday. "I set down a short list of things that would have to be met before we would have any association."
Sources said yesterday that neither Helms nor FIM had further contact with Turner about a joint effort after he listed his conditions.
Last week, CBS Chairman Thomas H. Wyman said there was no "financial substance" to reports that Turner might launch a bid for CBS. Wyman has said CBS would oppose vigorously any effort to gain control of the network. "We are deeply committed to the bright future we see for CBS as an independent company, and we fully expect to realize our ambitious objectives on this basis," Wyman said yesterday.
On Monday, Turner discussed his relationship with Helms and FIM in depositions taken in connection with a CBS suit against the conservative group. FIM, which is supported by Helms, has said it will try to gain control of CBS to end what it calls the network's "liberal bias."