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NBC Sports doc 'Courageous' recounts Ted Turner's America's Cup victory in 1977 (June 17)

This was posted Wednesday, June 14, 2017 by Rodney Ho/ on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Ted Turner's long-term legacy will certainly be Atlanta-based CNN, the first 24-hour cable news network he launched with customary fanfare in 1980.

But in a new hour-long documentary, NBC Sports has gone back three years earlier and recounted Turner's prodigious efforts to win the prestigious America's Cup yacht race in 1977.

"Courageous," named after his boat, is set to air at 2:30 p.m. Saturday after America's Cup coverage on NBC. Producers interviewed Turner himself, many of his yacht racing associates as well as legendary baseball player Hank Aaron and Terry McGuirk, chairman of the Atlanta Braves, which the maverick entrepreneur owned from 1976 to 1996. It also took advantage of ample archival footage from that polyester-inflected era.

"Thank goodness Ted Turner was Ted Turner," said senior producer Matthew Allen. "The news followed him. He allowed us to tell his story simply because he did so many interviews in 1977. Without that, we would have been hard-pressed to bring his dynamic character to light. He was on the 'Today' show. He was on night news broadcasts. The BBC did a big documentary on him in 1980. It was a joy to dig through the archives."

Turner opens the documentary quoting "Lays of Ancient Rome," an erudite man who also happens to love competition in many forms, be it the media world or the sporting world. He said he was not big enough or strong enough to make it in football or baseball. But he found his home on the sea. "Sailboat racing took brain power," he said. "Good crew men, well led, win."

You may not catch it immediately, but the narrator is a big-name celebrity as well: Oscar-winning actor Michael Douglas.

"He's an avid sailor," Allen said. "He's also a good friend of Ted's. He was happy to tell Ted's story."

Douglas also used a lyrical quotation to describe Ted as man of chutzpah: 'William Shakespeare wrote these words for Caesar: 'Cowards die many times before their deaths/ The valiant never taste of death but once."

Turner, now 78 years old, is no longer a headline maker. He spends most of his time in Montana and away from cameras. He sold off Turner Broadcasting in 1996 to Time Warner and has kept a relatively low profile the past decade. Allen recently talked to an intern in NBC Sports in her early 20s who grew up in Atlanta but had no idea who Turner was. The producer hopes a younger generation might take interest in who Turner was after watching the documentary.

The producers decided focus the front end of the documentary on Turner's brash ownership of the then reeling Atlanta Braves.

The "Mouth of the South," as Turner was nicknamed at the time, aired the Braves on a TV station he had just taken national and would become the "SuperStation TBS." He'd also eventually call the Braves "America's Team." But the Braves in the spring of 1977 were doing so poorly that he suspended the manager and placed himself in the dugout to run the show for a single game. He lost.

Soon after, he was suspended for a year from Major League Baseball for allegedly poaching a player outside the rules of free agency. This freed up time for him to focus exclusively on the America's Cup.

"Baseball is a sport people get," Allen said. "Through that lens, they can understand Ted Turner and then we were able to present sailing through that man."

For Turner, winning the America's Cup was redemption for getting locked out of the race three years earlier. According to crew members, he was both inspiring and rough, depending on the day.

The film "Rocky" had just come out the previous year and the memorable theme song was used to motivate the Courageous crew. As Douglas narrated over Bill Conti's iconic music: "The man from Atlanta liked to lead and he collected those willing to follow. His work ethic set the pace. His outside ambitions pushed his crew beyond."

Allen said he marveled watching footage of Turner's leadership on the boat. "I certainly wanted to be a crew member," he said. "It's easy to buy into Ted and his vision if you lived in the moment with him."


"Courageous," 2:30 p.m. Saturday, NBC, following airing of Race 1 of the 2017 America's Cup finals


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About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.