The Wisdom Television Network


The Wisdom Television Network

The Wisdom Television Network. [Note to contributors: This article would benefit greatly from accounts of employees within the failed cable TV and Radio network. There are many departments and areas of the network that could be discussed from a historic or comic standpoint. The radio division (Charlene Craft) has only been briefly mentioned, the internet department, the Bluefield, WV "production" department, the New York "production" office or the one person "legal" department. (It was rumored that the company lawyer brought his dog to his office, for example. True? Untrue?)]

A now defunct cable television and satellite radio network, Wisdom TV and Radio, was launched by West Virginia native William Turner in the 1990's. William Turner was no relation to CNN founder Ted Turner. The Wisdom TV network focused on a mix of new-age quasi-religious 80's pop-culture interests and the pop-culture 'lite' inspirational, semi-religious new-age writings and philosophies of a variety of authors. Perhaps the most dominant single voice came from Wayne Dyer, a well known inspirational author and educator. Other authors exerted influence among different philosophical factions within the cable venture, including Eckhart Tolle, Don Miguel Ruiz, Esther Hicks, Sylvia Browne, Doreen Virtue, Baird Spalding, Dannion Brinkley, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and many others. The offerings included "filler" programs of no particular value to the genre of interests. These programs were often out-of-production programs of no particular note used to fill time. No clear programming philosophy, nor coherent strategic direction or nor voice stood out in particular in the network's programming, although William Turner was strongly influenced by the writings of Wayne Dyer and a little-known new-age book titled "The Sermon On The Mount" derived from the bible verse of the same name. Turner is said to have often handed out various books and sayings of Dyers as gifts to visitors and employees.

The Wisdom Television and Radio Network "became" what is presently the web-based Lime Network, a website and internet radio program producer focused on health. In 2005 Wisdom's assets were purchased by Steve Case, the owner of a company called "Revolution Living". The network ceased broadcasting Wisdom's television content in 2007. Case's venture did not continue the Wisdom network's DISH contract. It is unknown why.

Previous efforts to locate an investor for the network, in the year prior to William Turner's death in 2003, were unsuccessful. Those efforts were led by a highly respected Los Angeles media firm. The investment team sought on or around $100-million dollars to "take Wisdom to the next level".

It is estimated the founder of the network, William Turner, invested $75-$100 million dollars into Wisdom TV before the network's collapse and his death in 2003.

Wisdom TV's programming offerings, and business plan, were perhaps well intentioned, they were poorly directed and inconsistent, at best. At William Turner's direction, the network did not employ an advertising sales team internally or via a rep firm until very late in 2003. Wisdom's average 30-second TV commercial spot sold for $10.00 per spot. Critics called the network's programming a "mess"; a "unpalatable hash of mixed metaphors, unrelated ideas and generally horrible production values", and "unwatchable."

Throughout William Turner's time at Wisdom TV up until his death, his direction, business plan and strategies for Wisdom TV network relied heavily on the pop-culture teachings of best-selling inspirational author Wayne W. Dyer. These views were not embraced by the other members of the Wisdom executive team. Regardless, Turner's view that all problems, including network revnues, could be solved with "positive thinking" alone, prevailed, whether it was accepted or not by subordinates. Failed plans and problems on any level were said by William Turner to a a "failure to really believe it was going to happen". It is said by some observers that his response to serious issues often bordered on delusional if not self-destructive. Turners associates said he believed that if one just "thought positively enough" everything would be "fine". He is also said to have operated on his own 'hunches', for better or worse. Earlier in his career, his hunches proved very profitable. Turner is said to have refused to assemble a network sales team, on a hunch. William Turner, meanwhile attempted to promote a strong belief in the power of positive thinking among employees with his fearless approach to decision making and expenditures. He is said to have declared often, that somehow 'the network would continue' and someone would deliver money to 'save' the network.

A character through and through, William Turner was also somewhat of a visionary whose ambition and fearlessness led him to create a progressive television network in the first place, with his own money. Turner was well liked and respected for his progressive boldness. He was a veteran of World War II, a previously successful West Virginia regional cable TV system owner, and had a firm belief in his own genius. He was trusting and exceedingly generous with his wife, family members, children, employees and non-employees alike. He hired many of his friends and relatives. His openness, trust and generosity was also legendary within the emerging 'new age' community and he attracted a legion of fans, believers, friends, and supporters, and like any wealthy generous personality had an orbiting retinue of hangers-on and media parasites.

Following William Turner's death in 2003, and up until the time of the sale, William Turner's fifth (5th) wife and her children and their friends attempted, with no success, to operate Wisdom TV. None had any media experience. They inherited control and Turner's fortune following William Turner's death. According to family members and others, by 2005 disastrous business practices left in place by William Turner and abysmal management by a gaggle of heirs, hanger's-on and dependants the Turner heirs were desperate to sell the failed, unknown, unseen, cable venture.

Previous efforts to locate an investor for the network, in the months before William Turner's death in 2003, were unsuccessful. Those efforts were led by a well known and highly respected Los Angeles media firm that had represented the Golf Television Network's investment efforts successfully, a few years earlier. Their efforts to locate investors for Wisdom met with failure, silence and skepticism in the venture capitol (VC) investment community. Unfortunately for William Turner, the image of Wisdom TV and its management in the VC community, but unknown to the Turner family, was, according to most who dealt with the fledgling network "unsophisticated". [It was much worse than that. Input here is desired to flesh out details] The atmosphere in the VC investment community was cool if not chilled to investing money into the failed quasi-religious/new age media venture.

The investment team sought on or around $100-million dollars to "take Wisdom to the next level". During this effort to raise money, in the 24 months period prior to the sale the word within the community of unconvinced potential investors, according to one analyst, was 'wait on the sidelines and pick up the bones'. No investors came forward to bail out Wisdom.

Ultimately, the consultants who led the unsuccessful Wisdom TV investment efforts, an experienced respected media consulting group based in Los Angeles, were forced to sue the Turner family to collect the remainder of their fees. They prevailed in court against the Turner heirs.

It is estimated the founder of the network, William Turner, invested $75-$100 million dollars into Wisdom TV before his death in 2003. The figure represents salaries, programming acquisition and production costs, travel, distribution contracts on the DISH network and a $5+ million dollar 50,000 square foot 'network headquarters' building he had constructed just outside of Bluefield, West Virginia. Mr Turner did not live to see it completed. The building was only briefly and partially occupied.

History

For a brief period in 2002-2003, the network attempted to re-brand itself from a quasi-religious programming mashup into a more consistent media brand that attempted to reflect the values of the emerging 'Sustainability", "Organic" and "Green" movements. Interestingly, these trends have each now emerged as significant market forces in their own right and growing forces within network media, print and TV and financial markets. (Discovery Networks and The Sundance Channel and a myriad of successful health-oriented websites are examples) Within Wisdom the branding effort was fragmented, paralyzed and ultimately subverted by internal disputes, turf wars and a lack of in-depth understanding of 1.) the emerging 'green' marketplace, 2.) the broadcasting business, 3.) promotions and effective marketing and 4.) communications. This was an often repeated pattern within the cable network: paralyzing turf wars.

On almost all issues, the turf wars centered around three central figures: Brenda Turner, the self declared 'chief visionary officer', or CVO, William Turner, the founder and president of the network and "CEO" Cindy Sheets, daughter of William Turner's 5th wife Brenda. Only William Turner had previous media experience in local cable. Neither his wife nor his daughter-in-law had any media experience. This lack proved catastrophic for the failed network.

Though noble and well intentioned, Wisdom's programming and business failed, hamstrung most say, by a disconnected, poorly constructed mix of weak programming offerings, a lack of direction, strategic planning, broadcast experience, shared values and a clear vision of the niche the network would target or occupy. Some saw the network as quasi-religious, some saw it as new-age, some saw it as inspirational, many saw it as a paycheck.

Network surveys revealed that the few viewers Wisdom actually had, interpreted the programming as religious or quasi-religious in nature.

William Turner did not see this viewer perception as an issue, although it was a critical question with respect to the DISH network policies, as the DISH-Wisdom contract did not allow the network to broadcast religious programming as such programming already existed elsewhere on the DISH. Ultimately, it did not matter, as few people beyond employees and those with a direct financial interest in the network knew Wisdom TV existed. Audience estimates ranged from a few hundred viewers to a few thousand, at best.

Programming decisions were constantly delayed by different hostile factions within the network. No one group had enough power, sources say, to override the others. As a result, important decisions were stalled in endless debate and turf tug-of-wars.

Media consultants repeatedly advised network executives that Wisdom's programming was failing and an uncoordinated mix of offerings that tended toward the horrifically boring, semi-religious, preachy, syrupy emotional and fringe new age.

During its brief cable life, the Wisdom TV network, distributed on the DISH network, struggled to find a footing with a cable audience. Lacking promotion, and a clear programming vision, an audience never formed and Wisdom TV remained invisible to all except the employees who depended on it for a living. The network employed approximately 125 people at its height, but never was self supporting, generating only a trickle of income. Average monthly losses were estimated at close to $1.2 million dollars at the time of its sale on an income at or near $50,000 a month.

Turner made his personal fortune developing a regional cable television service near the small remote coal town of Bluefield, West Virginia. He was unrelated to Ted Turner, the founder of CNN. The Wisdom TV network only operated a few years before Turner's death from cancer. Following his death, the network fell under the control of his 5th wife, Brenda Turner, who inherited his remaining money and control of the network. Along with other factions at the network she attempted, along with her daughter, to operate it. The effort quickly gave way to an urgent effort to sell the network once and for all.

A character through and through, William Turner was also somewhat of a visionary whose ambition and fearlessness led him to create a progressive network in the 1990's with his own fortune. While exciting to early adapters, it also immediately attracted "a swarm of marginally qualified fringe individuals, 'producers', and new age media wannabes and hangers on," said one former employee. William Turner was well liked and respected. He was a veteran of World War II, and a successful West Virginia businessman, and had a firm belief in his own genius. He was trusting and generous with his 5th wife, family members, employees and non-employees alike. When an unknown child from a previous relationship turned up on his West Virginia mansion doorstep shortly before his death, he took immediate financial responsibility for her welfare, and that of her mother despite uneasiness in his present family. His openness, trust and generosity was legendary in the 'new age' community and he attracted a legion of fans, believers, friends, supporters, parasites and the occasional con artist.

In one incident, which illustrates both Mr Turner's generosity and vulnerability, according to a company that did business with the network, "Mr Turner paid tens of thousands of dollars to a self-declared "crystal healing lightworker" in the San Francisco bay area who promised to heal and 'protect' Mr Turner from unknown maladies, sight unseen, by throwing a giant expensive quartz crystal into the Pacific Ocean". According to family members, Mr Turner paid an estimated $45,000 dollars for this 'treatment' before family members put a stop to the fraud and threatened the 'healer' with criminal prosecution. The money was never recovered, however, a former network employee says the healer did provide Polaroid pictures of an empty garage with quartz granules on the floor as evidence that the healing occurred. It was never determined if an actual crystal was thrown into the Pacific Ocean.

In another, according to one family friend in Colorado, he is said to have attempted, while visiting Israel in the 1970's, to walk on the water of the Sea of Galilee.


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