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Former TBS executive Robert Wussler dies at 73

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Robert Wussler, a pioneering television news executive who helped build TBS and CNN, dies at 73
  • Wussler won seven Emmy awards covering major stories of his era with CBS
  • Wussler was instrumental in helping Ted Turner create the Goodwill Games
  • At CBS Sports, Wussler created "The NFL Today" pre-game show

(CNN) -- Robert J. Wussler, a pioneering television news executive at CBS before he joined Ted Turner to help build Turner Broadcasting System and CNN into cable industry giants, died on June 5 at his Connecticut home after a long illness, according to a family spokesman. He was 73.

Wussler's career spanned five decades in which he became the youngest head of a major U.S. television network at 39 and later was instrumental in development of the cable television industry.

After starting as a mail-room clerk at CBS in 1957, he eventually became president of CBS Television News and CBS Sports and produced coverage of major stories of his era, including the assassinations and funerals of President John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.; President Richard Nixon's trip to China; and the Apollo 11 lunar landing that put man on the moon for the first time.

He won seven Emmy awards and created "The NFL Today," the pre-game show that became a standard for major sports broadcasts, said Arthur Sando of Sando Communications, who provided biographical information on Wussler.

In 1980, Wussler joined cable pioneer Ted Turner at Turner Broadcasting System and took part in developing and managing CNN, Headline News, TBS Sports and TNT. He also was involved with Turner in the Atlanta Braves baseball team and Atlanta Hawks basketball team.

"Bob Wussler was instrumental in helping Ted Turner build Turner Broadcasting and CNN," said Tom Johnson, a former CNN president. "Bob brought his prior network experience to the creation of TBS and served as a key adviser on many of Ted's major decisions during that pioneering era of the company."

Terry McGuirk, a former TBS chief executive officer who now holds that post for the Atlanta Braves, said Wussler "brought a new level of professionalism to Turner Broadcasting."

"His arrival at TBS validated the maturity of programming in the cable industry and the businesses that Turner Broadcasting was building in that programming arena," McGuirk said.

When Turner wanted to hold an international sporting event to help bridge political divisions, it was Wussler who helped him create the Goodwill Games, McGuirk said.

"He actually was Ted's go-between with the Russians," according to McGuirk. "So much of it was about television production and building it from scratch. He and Ted personally went to Moscow in 1986 and made that happen."

The Goodwill Games were staged six times from 1986 to 2001, at locales in the former Soviet Union, the United States, Russia and Australia.

Born on September 8, 1936, in Newark, New Jersey, Wussler was a graduate of Seton Hall University.

Wussler was regarded as an innovator, playing a role in expanding satellite usage in news coverage and the advancement of small cameras and recording devices in both the studio and in the field.

In 1978, Wussler formed his own production company, Pyramid Enterprises, which created unique, syndicated programming for the international marketplace, specializing in Japan, France and the former Soviet Union.

He later served as president and CEO of Comsat Video Enterprises, the largest provider of satellite-delivered entertainment to the U.S. lodging industry; and managed the acquisition of the Denver Nuggets basketball team.

Other awards received by Wussler included the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Trustees (NATAS) Award, four Awards for Cable Excellence (ACE) and the National Cable Television Association (NCTA) President's Award.

CNN's Tom Cohen contributed to this report