"He was golden" is the way one CBS insider describes Arthur Taylor's four years as president of CBS Inc. But on the morning of Oct. 13, 1976, CBS chairman and founder William S. Paley, out of the chroma-key blue, asked for Taylor's immediate resignation. According to lore, Taylor cleaned out his desk and left Black Rock, CBS headquarters in New York, by noon that day.
Taylor was so shaken by this spectacular decapitation that for years he did not discuss it publicly. Now, he says, enough time has passed for him to talk about his meteoric zoom through CBS.
"I loved that company, and I think it loved me back. Results show that," says Taylor, who led CBS to record profits. "Somewhere along the line, the results were so good that Paley felt his role was threatened, and my reaction was to redouble my efforts to do better. That's all I knew how to do. And clearly, the better I did, towards the end, the worse it got."
Paley's habit is to pick bright young executives to groom as successors, then panic at the thought of being succeeded. In his 1979 memoir, "As It Happened," Paley barely mentions Taylor except to say, "As time went on, it became more and more apparent to me that while Arthur Taylor was indeed brilliant, and the company's earnings were at an all-time high, he did not have all of the essential qualities to become my successor."
"He's an owner; he's not a chairman," says Taylor. "That's his mentality. And owners don't act like professional managers. When they're irritated by things, they change them without much feeling for what the broader implications, both human and business, might be."
Taylor made enemies other than Paley. The fact that he did not come from a broadcasting background alienated some in the broadcast divisions of CBS. Taylor's undoing may have been the Family Hour--his plan to purge the first hour of prime time (8-9 p.m.) of all sex and violence, a fiasco that embarrassed the company and infuriated top producers like Norman Lear, on whom CBS TV depended. In his book on the Family Hour, "See No Evil," Geoffrey Cowan says Taylor was known for his "tight-fisted financial philosophy and moralistic social views."
Even now Taylor contends that Lear's opposition to the Family Hour was "not in the best interest of the country."
Among Taylor's underlings while at CBS was another broadcasting legend, Fred Silverman, who went on to triumph at ABC and catastrophe at NBC. The all-seeing CBS Eye never really looked approvingly on Silverman because he didn't have that spiffy, Ivy-League, CBS cut to him. Taylor, who epitomizes the CBS style down to his toesies, confirms this.
"It's a funny thing about CBS," he says. "It has a kind of anal quality to it in terms of the rigidity with which form is pursued. It was always bothersome to me in a creative environment. They treated Fred like he was something that you kept in a cage at night and let out. And Fred was better than that. Fred had subtleties and nuances which I think the broadcast people never understood.
"I mean, they assigned him a keeper. Irwin Segelstein now an NBC executive was known as Fred's Keeper, and that I think propelled Fred to ABC."
Does Taylor miss the rarefied air of CBS? "No, I really don't. You go through an experience like that--I was 35 the day I walked in there, a boy--and you grow up in the process. You start something at 35, end it at 40, and it has a profound effect on you. . . . One thing I did decide, though, was that I would never work for a big corporation again."
What will happen to CBS when Paley, now 80, goes--if he ever does? "He'll go," says Taylor. "Well, it will become a regular company--if, IF, it hasn't been so traumatized that it really just falls apart. The kinds of things that have happened at CBS for such a long period of time now would leave very, very severe scars on people, and you don't know how deep those scars are. . . . One of the things CBS does best is really make thousands of lives unhappy for a long period of time."
Taylor sold all his CBS stock upon resigning. "It seemed the gentlemanly thing to do," he says, smiling. "And it has never been as high as on the day I left."