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Turner Wants To Talk

Ted Turner has a remarkable tale to tell—and publishers have been trying, unsuccessfully, to get him to tell it since the early 1980s. But now Turner, who turns 67 on Nov. 19, may be finally ready to reflect on a life that has included founding CNN, captaining an America’s Cup-winning yacht, marrying/divorcing Jane Fonda, owning the Atlanta Braves, and buying up gigantic swaths of the western United States.

Powerhouse agent Mort Janklow is testing publishers’ appetites—and pocketbooks—for a Turner memoir.

A possible collaborator is Bill Burke, who worked for Turner Broadcasting System from 1992-2000, rising from lowly staffer to president of TBS Superstation. (He is well acquainted with life at the top in TV: He’s the son of legendary Capital Cities/ABC President Dan Burke and brother of Comcast President Steve Burke.)

In 2001, Burke was named president of The Weather Channel. He quit that gig a year ago, and moved to Maine for a change of life. Working with the volatile Turner would no doubt be a bit of a change, too.

Though he’s not a professional writer, Burke earlier this year began working on an article that one industry executive described as “Everything I know about business, I learned from Ted Turner.” Burke sent a draft to Turner, who rang him up and proposed collaborating on an autobiography. But so far, the two have not committed to working together.

How big a deal would a Turner biography be?

“I think Ted is so interesting,” says a major New York literary agent. “I think it’s worth the sun and the moon.”

But that’s only if Turner is more candid than most media moguls (Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone and Disney’s ex-CEO Michael Eisner come to mind), whose memoirs tend to be tedious, self-serving affairs. And Simon & Schuster has been twice disappointed by Turner manuscripts it commissioned in the past, choosing not to publish what was turned in.

In other words: A Turner book about environmentalism and buffalo-breeding—snooze; a Turner tell-all about Jane, Jim Beam and brawling over the AOL-Time Warner merger—back-ordered on Amazon!

Burke wouldn’t comment, and a spokesman for Turner says talking about an autobiography is “way too premature.”