Family & Companions
From the mid-1960s, Barry Diller's influence on both American entertainment and business was singular and substantial. The son of a California real estate developer, Diller grew up understanding business. He dropped out of UCLA after a single semester to work his way up from the mailroom of the William Morris agency. In 1964, Diller jumped to the ABC network, and quickly rose to vice president of programming. In that capacity, he pioneered the made-for-television film format with ABC's "Movie of the Week" series (1969-1976). After injecting vitality into the struggling network, Diller went on to rescue the struggling Paramount Pictures, overseeing an era that produced such hits as "Saturday Night Fever" (1977), "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981), and "Cheers" (NBC, 1982-1993). He repeated this success with the faltering studio Twentieth Century-Fox, for whom he launched the Fox Broadcasting network with Rupert Murdoch. As legendary as his success was his management style, which was described as hostile and even abusive. Despite this, Diller accrued a dedicated following of executives that he mentored who emulated his style, including Dawn Steel, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Michael Eisner - a group informally referred to as "the Killer Dillers." Diller left Fox to build his own conglomerate of television and on-line assets including QVC, USA Network, Expedia.com, and the Lycos Internet portal, while also serving as Director of Coca-Cola and the Washington Post Company. Barry Diller embodied the ideal of the American executive: aggressive, innovative and ultimately successful.
Barry Charles Diller was born on Feb. 2, 1942 in San Francisco, CA to Michael Diller, a real estate developer, and his wife, Reva. He attended UCLA in 1960, but dropped out after a single semester. Instead, thanks to a family connection to actress Marlo Thomas, Diller found work in the mailroom of the William Morris agency. He advanced quickly into assistant and junior agent positions, but in 1964, Diller left the agency to work as assistant to the ABC network's head of West Coast operations, Elton Rule. When Rule was promoted to president of the network that same year, he took Diller with him to the head office in New York, where Diller swiftly moved from working as an assistant to negotiating broadcast rights for feature films. By 1968, Diller had moved his way up the corporate ladder to assistant to the vice president of program development, and had built a reputation for intimidating his subordinates with threats and impressing his superiors with results. In 1969, the ambitious young Diller steered ABC away from acquiring broadcast rights for feature films and toward producing films exclusively for television. He created ABC's "Movie of the Week" (1969-1976), which energized the made-for-TV formula with big name talent and crowd-pleasing stories - all of which proved that the usually third-place network ABC could compete.
Impressed with his revitalization of ABC, Paramount Pictures brought Diller onboard as CEO in 1974. He saved the struggling studio from the brink of collapse with a combination of austere budget cuts, aggressive content acquisition, and innovative marketing. With Diller at the helm, Paramount produced such blockbuster films as "Saturday Night Fever" (1977), "Grease" (1978), "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981) and "Beverly Hills Cop" (1984), as well as hit television series including "Laverne & Shirley" (ABC, 1976-1983), "Taxi" (ABC, 1978-1982 / NBC, 1982-83), and "Cheers" (NBC, 1982-1993). Despite his success, Diller's ambitious and abrasive personality put him at odds with Paramount studio head Martin Davis and, in the midst of an internal feud, Diller quit. He was quickly hired by another troubled studio, Twentieth Century-Fox, and set about saving it using the same strategy with which he had rescued Paramount. He was put in charge of the fledgling network Fox Broadcasting and legitimized its role as a competitor with the "Big Three" by focusing on inexpensive, sensationalist fare like "Cops" (Fox, 1989- ) as well as unique, potentially risky shows like "Married.With Children" (Fox, 1987-1997) and "The Simpsons" (Fox, 1989- ). Diller also wisely launched his new shows in August while the other networks traditionally aired reruns, and aggressively acquired an extensive network of local affiliates. Though he was once again an unqualified success, Diller's borderline-abusive management style drove a wedge between him and the rest of Fox's board. He left the network that he helped to build in 1992. While Diller exhibited this pattern of enriching and then alienating his cohorts throughout his career, he also inspired a dedicated following of executives who he mentored and who emulated his style. These executives, informally referred to as "the Killer Dillers," included Columbia Pictures head Dawn Steel, Dreamworks principle Jeffrey Katzenberg, and former Disney CEO Michael Eisner, all of whom worked under Diller at Paramount, as well as President of BBC America Garth Ancier, who worked under Diller at Fox.
In the latter years of his career, having previously relied on a cadre of assistants, Diller purchased his first laptop and immediately became intrigued by interactive media. He purchased a $25 million dollar stake in QVC, the home shopping network. He then built a network of locally run television stations around QVC, which he named USA Broadcasting. In 1994, Diller attempted to merge QVC with CBS, but failed. Instead he sold the television assets to Univision, keeping only the Home Shopping Network, around which he created InterActiveCorp, a conglomerate of interactive commercial interests including Match.com, Ask.com, Citysearch, Vimeo, CollegeHumor.com, Internet portal Lycos, and LendingTree, the most successful online mortgage lender. Diller also served as Director of Coca-Cola from 2002, as well as the Director of the Washington Post company. In 2010, Diller merged his online news source Daily Beast.com with Newsweek magazine, and launched Aero, a broadcast start-up that streamed content to digital devices. In 2012, he joined producer Scott Rudin in launching Brightline, an epublishing concern. Despite this focus on information technology, Diller remained a dedicated philanthropist, raising millions of dollars in charitable donations through foundations created with his wife, fashion design Diane von Furstenberg.
By John Crye
Cast (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
Worked briefly in the mailroom at William Morris Agency
Became an agent at William Morris
Joined ABC as assistant to the vice president in charge of programming in March
Moved up to executive assistant to the vice president in charge of programming and director of feature films, ABC
Became vice president of feature films and program development, east coast, ABC
Rose to vice president of feature films and Circle Entertainment (a unit of ABC entertainment), became proponent of the made-for-television movie
Introduced the miniseries concept to American TV; gained the rights to Leon Uris' novel "QB VII" and Alex Haley's book to "Roots" for ABC
Promoted to vice president in charge of primetime entertainment at ABC
Appointed chairman and CEO of Paramount in September; served for ten years (until 1984) during which the studio released such hits as "Saturday Night Fever" (1977), "Grease" (1978) and "Flashdance" (1983) and such worthy projects as the award-winning "Ordinary People" (1980), "Reds" (1981) and "Terms of Endearment"
Named president of Gulf + Western Entertainment and Communications Group (in addition to Paramount duties)
Resigned from Paramount and Gulf + Western to join 20th Century-Fox as board chairman and chief executive officer; given small ownership stake in the studio (September)
Named chairman and CEO of Fox, Inc. (including 20th Century-Fox Film Corp., Fox TV Stations, and Fox Broadcasting Co.)
Helped launch the "fourth" television network, the Fox Broadacast Company, airing shows like "Beverly Hills, 90210" and "21 Jump Street" as well as "The Simpsons" and "Married... With Children"
Named to board of directors of News Corp, Ltd.
In December, invested $25 million in QVC, a home-shopping network then best known for selling cubic zirconia
Resigned as chair of Fox Inc. on February 24; reportedly spent several months "soul searching" by driving cross-country
Attempted to acquire Paramount Communications beginning in September; by February had been outbid by Viacom's chief Sumner Redstone
In January, named as chief executive of QVC; over the next sixth months remakes the image of the network
Announced plans to merge QVC with its rival Home Shopping Network in July; deal later shelved; later in July, reveals plans to launch Q2, geared to a younger, more affluent audience
Inducted into the TV Hall of Fame by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences
Struck agreement to merge QVC and CBS in June, with plans for Diller to succeed Laurence Tisch as head of the network; deal derailed by Comcast owner Ralph Roberts and his son Brian offered $44 a share for the remaining QVC stock, acquiring control of the company and quashing the CBS merger
Acquired Silver King, whose holdings included 12 UHF TV stations; planned to create another TV network (SKTV)
Elected chairman of the Board of Directors of Home Shopping Network in November
Purchased Savoy Pictures Entertainment
Formed HSN, Inc by merging Silver King Communications, Home Shopping Network and Savoy Pictures (December)
Purchased television assets from Universal for $4 billion
Acquired control of ticketmaster
Completed merger of the Home Shopping Network, Universal Television and USA Networks to form USA Networks Inc. (February)
Purchased October Films and Gramercy Pictures from Universal, folded them into new entity USA Films
Announced plans to acquire Internet company Lycos (February), dropped plans in May
Reorganized USA Networks, Inc in to three units: information and services (including Ticketmaster, CitySearch and other online ventures), entertainment (USA Network, Studios USA), and electronic retailing (Home Shopping Network)
USA acquired controlling interest in Expedia
Withdrew from bidding on assets of Rainbow Media (including cable channels American Movie Classics and Bravo)
USA Networks sold its television and film assets to Vivendi Universal. The remaining divisions were reorganized as USA interactive.