Daniel Schorr is sick to death of talking about the whole thing and can't wait until he finally gets to do it. The correspondents have been practicing for a month, the vice president of the operation says it's the most exciting thing he's ever undertaken, and Ted Turner is. . . well, still Ted Turner.
And that's the way it is with less than 48 hours to go until the Cable News Network, Ted Turner's ambitious 24-hour all-news network, debuts at 6 p.m. tomorrow.
An estmated 2 million homes receiving cable TV will pick up CNN, created by the flamboyant and aggressive Atlanta businessman.
Yesterday afternoon, some of CNN's Washington bureau staff gathered with staff from Arlington TeleCommunications Corp. (ARTEC), which broadcasts a cable-TV service called Metrocable to Arlington residents. They were there to watch Turner and CNN President Reese Schonfield field questions from the Atlantic headquarters of CNN via a live telecast to cable stations all over the country. They called it a "teleconference," and each location was allowed to ask a few questions through a telephone hookup that also allowed everyone else watching to listen to the questions.
"Please forgive my uneasiness," said Turner off-handedly in his twangy southern accent as the teleconference bean. "I'm not a professional announcer."
He had already proved that the previous night on an "ABC News Nightline" interview with anchor Ted Koppel, who grilled Turner about just what he expected to accomplish with CNN. Turner stumbled a bit, although he was quite affable.
"There was a time," said Schorr yesterday, commenting on the "Night-line" interview, "when, if someone had said to him, the way Koppel did, 'You answer the questions, I'll ask them,' Turner would have said, 'Well, I don't see why I can't ask questions' and then go into a argument. But he didn't. That's a maturing process on his part."
As for Turner's being somewhat vague about the network's impact in that interview, Schorr -- and just about everyone else -- said, "He answered as well as he could. I don't think he knows all the details. A lot of those questions should have gone to Reese Schonfeld. I think if you sat Bill Paley down, you'd be surprised how much he didn't know about CBS."
But Turner was in better form yesterday, much to the delight of the 100 or so guests who also included lots of media folk and Federal Communications Commnission staffers.
Turner matter-of-factly noted that his network could lose about $2 million a month for the next 18 months. "By the next three or four years we should be in the black," he said. "Our superstation, which wasn't making money, now is. I think it can carry it."
He and Schonfeld described CNN as a combination of "all-news radio, newspapers, wires" that would not put any of those media out of business. "But we intend to beat them all at times," said Turner smiling. "We're an expansion team."
Turner made the teleconference as homey as he could, welcoming each caller with a big, booming "Hi, there." Right before someone from Hawaii called, a woman walked in front of the Atlanta camera and placed leis around the necks of Turner and Schonfeld. Just then, someone from The Honolulu Advertiser called in. "Ah right!" said Turner. "Hi! Thanks for the flowers!"
At one break in the calls, Turner said, "Hey, this is fun! Who's next!"
Turner also insisted that the burgeoning group of advertisers who have bought time on CNN would not have influence over it. "Some advetisers said they don't like Ralph Nader [who will be a CNN commentator], and I said, "That's too bad,'" said Turner, leaning into the camera and shaking his head as if the camera were an advertiser. "I said, 'You don't have to sponsor the Nader reports.'"
"Isn't Ted a kick?" said one CNN staffer, walking through the reception that followed the teleconference.
"I'm always embarrassed to see some of the ragged edges," said CNN vice president George Watson, referring to the brief reel of promos that preceded questions and answers with Turner. The promos showed anchor people reading familiar news stories, sportscasters talking with each other, and commentators like Barry Goldwater and Dr. Joyce Brothers expounding.
"I always cringe at technical problems," said Watson. "But you always have problems."
Bernard Shaw, an anchor, is the first person scheduled to appear on the CNN air Monday morning. "I have no regrets and I'm not scared," he said in answer to questions about both. "It's going to require a lot of hustle and a lot of work. I'll be numb at the end of the day." Shaw is a former ABC correspondent.
In one part of the room, White House correspondent Mark Walton huddled with CNN Washington bureau chief Peter Vesey and Pentagon correspondent David Browde -- who is engaged to ABC correspondent Bettina Gregory.
"I don't think there's anybody with a career, in their right mind, who goes into this without saying, "There could be some problems,'" said Browde. "But I have no regrets."