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Barry ''Killer'' Diller Ready to Return

The inside scoop on what’s coming for the TV executive

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Say you’re a television executive. One day you come to the office, open the paper, and boom: You read that your network has been gobbled up by a man who sells cubic zirconia.

Don’t laugh. This almost happened at CBS. And although QVC’s planned merger with the Tiffany network is now in jeopardy (the cable giant Comcast derailed the deal with a surprise bid for QVC last week), one thing seems clear: It won’t be long before QVC chief Barry Diller will head a network or studio once again. That means your next boss could very well be the 52-year-old exec who built the Fox Network, the honcho who turned Paramount around, the man who once threw a videocassette so hard it left a hole in an office wall. The guy they call ”Killer” Diller.

So what’s an upwardly mobile player like you to do? How can you at least pretend you’ve got an in with the new boss? Relax. Here are five stock phrases and the stories — culled from those who actually know Diller — that will have people thinking you and ”Killer” are tighter than Regis and Kathie Lee:

”Barry and I go way back.” Back in the ’60s, when Diller was starting out at William Morris, he was told to chauffeur for the legendary Abe Lastfogel, the aging head of the agency. A nervous Diller was driving along when he hit the brakes a bit too sharply. Lastfogel slid from the backseat onto the floor. Diller stopped the car, jumped out, propped his boss back onto the seat, and drove on.

”Barry’s a real fixer-upper.” Diller is a hands-on manager. He personally chose the color schemes for the sets of Fox’s TV shows. At Paramount, he despised the Entertainment Tonight theme and tried to get it changed. And responding to audiences’ initial distaste for Die Hard‘s Bruce Willis, Diller encouraged a movie poster that downplayed the actor — although he had paid Willis $5 million to star in the film.

”You know, Barry’s much better-looking in person.” At a party last March, Diller was complimented on a recent magazine photo of him. He replied, ”There’s no such thing as a good picture of me.” This is true.

”Barry’s one helluva nice guy.” At a Fox Christmas party one year, Diller greeted every employee personally, many of them by name, from the senior staff down to the mail room workers.

”That Barry: what a kook!” Diller would leave one of his cars — a Jaguar, a Mercedes, or a Porsche — in the Fox parking lot at all times, so employees never knew whether he was in his office.