• The Hollywood Reporter on LinkedIn
  • Follow THR on Pinterest

TV exec Robert J. Wussler dies

CNN co-founder had long career at CBS

Robert Wussler, a visionary TV news and sports executive who presided over the CBS network at age 40 and later co-founded CNN with Ted Turner, died June 5 at his home in Westport, Conn., after a long illness. He was 73.

Wussler began his career at CBS as a mailroom clerk in 1957, attained the position of executive producer and director of special events in the news department and then rose to become head of CBS Sports and then president of the CBS Television Network in 1976 during his 21-year stay at the network.

Wussler essentially invented the genre of pregame telecasts in the mid-'70s with "The NFL Today," for which he hired Brent Musburger, Irv Cross, Jimmy "the Greek" Snyder and a former Miss America, Phyllis George.

A native of Newark, N.J., and a graduate of Seton Hall, Wussler received six Emmy Awards and the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Trustees Award, presented to such leaders as Turner, David Sarnoff and William S. Paley. He served three terms as NATAS chairman.

At CBS News, Wussler produced thousands of hours of programming, gaining a reputation for innovation in covering such seminal events as the assassinations and funerals of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.; Richard Nixon's historic trip to China in 1972; presidential campaigns, conventions and elections; and the U.S. space program, including Neil Armstrong landing on the moon in 1969.

Wussler also gained prominence as an news innovator, from his early use of miniature cameras to his calm control room demeanor as Walter Cronkite's producer. He is considered largely responsible for the expansion of satellite usage in news coverage and the advancement of small cameras and recording devices in the studio and in the field.

Between his news and sports gigs at the network, Wussler served as GM of WBBM-TV, the CBS-owned station in Chicago, from 1972-74. In 1978, he formed production company Pyramid Enterprises, which created syndicated programming for the international marketplace.

In 1980, Turner recruited Wussler to join Turner Broadcasting Systems. During the next decade, Wussler provided broad leadership and business management to CNN, Headline News, SuperStation WTBS, TNT, baseball's Atlanta Braves, the NBA's Atlanta Hawks, the U.S.A. vs. U.S.S.R. Goodwill Games and TBS Sports.

For almost 10 years, he oversaw the growth of SuperStation TBS as its president and, in 1988, was instrumental in the founding of TNT.

Wussler also served as president and CEO of Ted Turner Pictures, which released the theatrical "Gods and Generals" nationwide in 2003 through Warner Bros.

From 1989-92, Wussler was president and CEO of Comsat Video Enterprises, which grew rapidly in the field of on-demand video in the hotel industry. While there, he also managed the acquisition of the NBA's Denver Nuggets, serving as managing general partner.

Following several international entrepreneurial ventures, Wussler became president and CEO of ABC Affiliate Enterprises, the new-media and marketing arm of more than 100 ABC affiliates.

In 1992, he formed the Wussler Group, an international media consultancy focused on developing television and Internet properties, electronic commerce and convergence technologies.

Wussler is survived by his children, Jeanne, Christopher, Stefanie, Sally, Rob and Rosemary; and his grandchildren, Emmett, Maeve, Hope, Whittaker, Griffin and Taite.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions be made to Yale-New Haven Hospital in New Haven, Conn., or to the Comprehensive Pain Center at the Oregon Health & Science University Foundation in Portland, Ore.