The Network Gods

Art Streiber

Jamie Kellner, Don Ohlmeyer and Leslie Moonves

We're still alive!" bellows former Fox chief Jamie Kellner as his onetime rival Don Ohlmeyer enters Stage 9 on the CBS Radford lot on a blistering September day. Minutes later, Leslie Moonves arrives, greeting Ohlmeyer, a dear friend and early mentor, then Kellner, whom Moonves argues never got the credit he deserves for launching the Fox network. "Jamie was a rebel," says the CBS chief executive, prompting former NBC West Coast president Ohlmeyer to add, "Had it not been for Fox pushing the envelope on what was considered acceptable, the other networks would have stayed safely where they were." To be sure, all three know something about defying expectations: Under their watch, their networks and studios collectively have nabbed more than 350 Emmys. Ohlmeyer, 66, remembers the scathing Time magazine article published on his first day at the job, Feb. 3, 1993. "Cosby was gone, Cheers was leaving, Letterman had gone to CBS -- they had no chance of ever coming back," the retired executive says of the article's thesis. "I remember sitting in my office thinking, 'What the f-- have I done?' " Twenty-two months later, NBC had soared to No. 1 on the strength of such hits as Friends and ER. When Moonves, 61, left Warner Bros., the studio behind both of those series, to take the reins at CBS, the industry was similarly critical. "It was a big change in the business when Les took over CBS," says Ohlmeyer, who ticks off Moonves' accomplishments at the now-No. 1 network. Then there's Kellner, 64, who launched the WB after his time at Fox. "He started two networks, which was something that everybody said couldn't be done. So he was right one-and-a-half times," quips Moonves. Kellner, retired and focused on his Santa Barbara winery, erupts with laughter: "It's the best average in the whole industry."

Photographed by Art Streiber on Sept. 6 at CBS Studio Center in Studio City.