What a night for Sumner Redstone! February 1992, down at an executive retreat in Key West, Florida, where the tequila always flows. There he is, the media emperor himself, Mr Redstone – once derided by his rivals as “that peasant from Boston” – now holding court with his top guys at the Viva Zapata club. This young man of 68 is knocking back shots and roaring about the success of MTV, the hottest stud in his stable of television channels at Viacom.
“So listen to me, you turkeys!” he shouts at his team, who are lapping it up. “Only a short four-and-a-half years ago there were still some in the world who considered that MTV was a fad. MTV is now entrenched as part of the culture of America and fast becoming entrenched in the culture of the world.”
“Redstone for President! Redstone for President!” his execs chant, pouring more tequila. His tongue loosened, Redstone has an idea and collars Tom Freston, MTV’s CEO, and complains about all that rock and roll muck on the channel. Why does he never broadcast more real musicians like Tommy Dorsey? Now he could really play trombone. So could Benny Goodman with his clarinet! Hey, how about Tony Bennett?
He pushes him hard, Freston bows to pressure and broadcasts videos of Tony Bennett, the crooner old enough to be the grandfather of MTV fans, on his channel. Turns out, the Generation X slackers who watch MTV love him – they start buying his albums and breathe new life into his career. A classic Redstone move.
Well, at least that’s the way he tells it in his autobiography, Passion To Win. When the book came out in 2001, Redstone’s execs would have been too scared of him to loudly disagree. Now that he’s passed away, aged 97, who knows if the Redstone record will be corrected?
In Redstone’s world, you’re either a “winner” or a “patsy”. Winners like him got to control one of America’s biggest media firms – an empire which included MTV, Nickelodeon, VH1, CBS, Simon & Schuster, Paramount Pictures, Showtime and Comedy Central.
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