The Silver King Communications chairman has been a major Hollywood player for over 20 years

By Dana Kennedy
October 25, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT

If anyone should know about power and how to wield it, it’s Barry Diller. Currently chairman of Silver King Communications (owner of 12 TV stations and about to take over Savoy Pictures and the Home Shopping Network), he ran two major studios (Paramount and Twentieth Century Fox) and launched the Fox TV network. Diller, 54, has been a consummate Hollywood player for more than 20 years. But just try getting him to admit it.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I’m here to ask you about the notion of power.
BARRY DILLER: I don’t really have anything to say on the subject.

Do you consider yourself powerful?
No. Well [laughs], you mean in a position with influence over others?

Yes. Some people think you’re incredibly powerful, but for all I know you may go home at night and feel like the weakest guy in the world.
First of all, the kinds of power people in my position have are transitory. What I have is the power to exert my will. I don’t think of that as corporate — I think of it as personal. Too many people are powerful one day and powerless the next. Power you rent — that you don’t own and isn’t inside you — is meaningless. People who treat it seriously are in for the greatest disappointment, because eventually it ends. You get the rug pulled out from under you.

You’ve had the rug pulled out from under you, right?
Yes. But it doesn’t have that much to do with power. Power is a concept for people who misuse it. It doesn’t overly impress me. I think there could easily be 101 people within a 500-mile radius [who are] more powerful, [who have] the ability to make things happen. Okay? How’s that? That’s what I can give you.

That’s it? I waited half an hour for you? Only 10 minutes?
Eleven minutes, okay, what else do you want to ask? Go, go, go!

Would you have been as successful without your failures?
Not necessarily. People say failure educates — I don’t think so. Mistakes do.

Many articles say you’re a hard-ass. Are you? Have you always been a hard-ass? How did you become a hard-ass?
[Laughs] I’m not so sure I agree with your ”hard-ass.”

It’s not my ”hard-ass.”
I’ve never read that I’m a hard-ass…. I am tough. But most people who know me would say I’m not tough.

Most people who know you say you are tough — at least from what I’ve read. Oh, please. I’ve always believed that the truth has to come out of tough, passionate arguing. I love the combat of idea against idea — in the hard rubbing of the two, something interesting comes out.

I also see the description ”fearless” applied to you a lot.
I’m not fearless…. I’ve taken some risks other people would not take.

So what are you afraid of?
I’m afraid of…I’m afraid of snakes.

Who are you afraid of? Anybody scare you or intimidate you?
Well, if I say, ”Of course some people do,” you’ll say, ”Who are they?” Of course sometimes people intimidate me.