THE MEDIA BUSINESS; Bill Cosby Trying to Buy NBC From G.E.
Published: October 29, 1992
Bill Cosby, NBC’s biggest star of the 80’s, is trying to buy the television network from its current owner, the General Electric Company.
Norman Brokaw, the chief executive of the William Morris Agency and Mr. Cosby’s personal agent for 30 years, confirmed yesterday that he had discussed Mr. Cosby’s intention to make an offer for NBC with Robert C. Wright, the network’s president.
Mr. Brokaw said he flew into New York last week expressly to meet with Mr. Wright. “I told him Bill is definitely interested in buying NBC, and Mr. Wright eventually said that NBC is not for sale.”
For more than two years, NBC has been the subject of continuing rumors that it is for sale, especially since its ratings have gone into a steep decline.
Mr. Brokaw said he and Mr. Cosby had decided “to fully pursue a deal” for NBC. He added that Mr. Cosby had met with his lawyer, Herbert H. Chaice, to discuss the details of the possible purchase.
Mr. Chaice, of the Manhattan firm of Patterson, Belknap, Webb Tyler, said he had talked with investment houses about Mr. Cosby’s becoming what he called “one of a number of principals” in such a purchase. “It’s not likely that Bill will do the whole thing, nor would I consider it prudent that he try to,” Mr. Chaice said.
Mr. Brokaw said Mr. Cosby had held preliminary talks with “a couple of individuals” on being partners in an NBC takeover.
Neither Mr. Brokaw nor Mr. Chaice disclosed how much Mr. Cosby might be willing to pay for NBC.
But analysts said the asking price for NBC was likely to be about $4 billion. General Electric paid $6.5 billion when it acquired the network’s parent company, the RCA Corporation, in 1986. General Electric has since sold off RCA’s electronics divisions and acquired several other television properties, including the cable channel CNBC.
General Electric’s stock gained $1.125 yesterday, to close at $77.75 on the New York Stock Exchange. Cosby Has No Comment
Mr. Brokaw said Mr. Cosby, who was in Philadelphia yesterday taping his new syndicated television series “You Bet Your Life,” would have no comment on the offer..
But Mr. Brokaw denied some news reports yesterday indicating that the deal was dead. “This is a real story,” he said. “Bill authorized me to come to New York and meet with Bob Wright.”
And Mr. Chaice said: “We understand they said NBC is not for sale. What inferences you can draw from that I’m not sure of. But in my mind, everything is for sale. It just depends on what the seller and buyer agree upon.”
As it has done in the past, NBC declined to comment on the possibility that the network might be sold.
But one senior NBC executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Mr. Brokaw had exaggerated the seriousness of his discussions with Mr. Wright.
Mr. Cosby’s personal wealth has been estimated at $300 million. The entertainer owns a substantial piece of “The Cosby Show,” his longtime comedy hit, which was produced by the Carsey-Werner Company and ended an eight-year run on NBC last spring. Mr. Brokaw pointed out that syndication sales of reruns of “The Cosby Show” to local television stations were very strong. “The show is approaching $1 billion in syndication,” he said. ‘Warm Feelings’ About NBC
Mr. Brokaw characterized Mr. Cosby’s interest in buying the network in personal terms. “Bill has very warm feelings about NBC,” he said. “He got his break there almost 30 years ago in ‘I Spy.’ Then he had the most financially successful show of all time there in the 1980’s.”
He said Mr. Cosby was interested in making quality television shows and that he would surround himself with “good people” to handle all the details of running a network.
Over the last two years, there have been several rumored suitors for NBC — most notably Paramount Communications Inc. and Barry Diller, the former chairman of Fox Inc. But neither Paramount nor Mr. Diller has ever confirmed that they have tried to buy the company.
Still, the rumors seemed at least to have inspired Mr. Cosby. “Bill kept reading about Barry Diller and Paramount,” Mr. Brokaw said. “He approached me a couple of weeks ago and said: ‘We’re been hearing about all these different people buying NBC. I want you to tell NBC we’re seriously interested.’ “
Some financial analysts have suggested that General Electric probably does want to sell NBC. “There are really only two or three options for NBC,” said John Tinker, a media analyst for Furman Selz Inc. “They can try to rebuild, but the same team is still in place so that doesn’t seem to be the plan. The other option is to sell, but then you have book-value problems. So they’re left to fudge in the middle and every day NBC loses more value.”