1 Rupert Murdoch
Chairman, CEO, News Corp.*Last year: 5
In the year of Tonya & Nancy, Lyle & Erik, Lorena & John, and O.J. & Nicole, it's only appropriate that the most powerful man in entertainment launched his empire with a string of Australian rags famous for headlines like ''Leper Rapes Virgin, Gives Birth to Monster Baby.'' Who knew in 1953, when Rupert Murdoch took over his first newspaper Down Under, that 40 years later he would ride roughshod over a worldwide film and TV conglomerate? Or that his tabloidy taste would seep into nearly every corner of the media?
Skeptics who scoffed when Murdoch started the Fox tv networkback in 1987 are now playing catch-up as fifth and sixth broadcast networks are being launched. This year, the 63-year-old tycoon took a bite out of the Big Three by paying $1.56 billion to snatch television rights for NFL games away from CBS. And by investing half a billion dollars in New World Entertainment, he acquired 12 big-city affiliates, sending CBS and company scrambling to find new spaces on the dial. Murdoch also stretched his TV power across other continents with his controlling interests in Germany's Vox network, British Sky Broadcasting, and the Asian satellite giant Star TV.
After adding Living Single and The X-Files to its stable of hits (which includes Beverly Hills, 90210 and The Simpsons) last season, Fox hit a snag with a weak crop of new fall shows. But Murdoch, in his customary fashion, acted quickly, replacing network president Sandy Grushow with former CBS TV-movie exec John Matoian in an attempt to broaden Fox's appeal beyond young urbanites. Meanwhile, his Twentieth Century Fox turned out the Christmas season's biggest big-screen hit (Mrs. Doubtfire), a summer blockbuster (Speed), and has a strong lineup ahead, from John Hughes' Miracle on 34th Street remake to Die Hard 3.
David Letterman may chuckle every time he says ''the Fox network,'' but it's Rupert Murdoch who laughs loudest all the way to the proverbial bank.
2 Sumner M. Redstone
Chairman, Viacom Inc.
*Last year: 4 * Age: 71 *Credits: Viacom (owner of MTV, Showtime, and Nickelodeon) bought up Paramount Communications for $9.8 billion; got Blockbuster Entertainment in a $7.6 billion stock swap. *Debits: Even after the $1.075 billion sale of Madison Square Garden, Viacom must juggle about $7 billion in long-term debt.
3 Gerald M. Levin
Chairman, CEO Time Warner Inc.
*Last year: 2 *Age: 55 *Credits: Orchestrated Time Warner's $15 billion in revenues, rolling in from films, music, TV shows, books, magazines, and the management of 8.9 million cable subscribers; and if you believe news reports, he's also angling to buy a piece of NBC. *Debits: Cable regulations depressed the company's stock.
4 Steven Spielberg
*Last year: 13 *Age: 46 *Credits: Schindler's List's seven Oscars; his personal projected $262 million take from Jurassic; his Amblin hit factory; his venture with Geffen and Katzenberg now gives him the studio he's always wanted. *Debits: seaQuest DSV is submerging; if anyone but Spielberg were at the helm, it'd be sleeping with the fishes.
5 Michael Eisner
Chmn., CEO, The Walt Disney Co.
*Last year: 9 *Age: 52 *Credits: Disney can claim the summer's No. 1 film, The Lion King; TV's No. 1 series, Home Improvement; and video's top label. *Debits: Altering plans to build Disney's America near Manassas, Va., makes his troubled theme-park division shakier; Katzenberg's exit shook up the studio and unleashed a major competitor.