Who is Bock? And how did this energetic little fellow with a real-estate salesman's smile ingratiate himself with a pathologically suspicious crowd of Kremlin politicians? The answers are not clear. Was it because Bock arranged a few years ago to have a memorial plaque placed on the house in Munich where Lenin did some of his most important writing? This impressed the Soviets. Beyond that, Wussler says, "The Russians trust him at least partly because in 1968 Lothar imported a troupe of Russian singers for a tour of West Germany. They were there at the same time the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia to crush the uprising. That week the West Germans wouldn't touch anything Russian with a 10-foot pole. Lothar had to eat about a $75,000 loss. And he did. The Russians never forgot that. They thought Lothar showed class. They trusted him."
There are stories around Munich that contradict this theory. Some people say they cannot understand why the Soviets even let Bock into the U.S.S.R. because he allegedly once left a troupe of Georgian saber dancers flat broke in Hamburg until the Soviet government sent money to pay their bills. On another occasion, Bock reportedly marooned 60 Mongolian tumblers in a Bavarian country inn, forcing Moscow to come to the rescue again.
Whatever else he may be, Bock is a loquacious chap who is seemingly quite open about himself. Sitting in his office, which is located in the basement of a green bungalow on an unpaved street in a Munich suburb, he explained last week how his prosperous Soviet connection came to be: "In 1965 I happened to see the Osipov Balalaika Orchestra, and I thought I would bring it to Germany. I wrote to Moscow and got a letter back in Russian. I hardly even speak the language now, and I certainly didn't understand it then. But instead of having it translated, I took the next flight to Moscow. They translated it for me there. It said: 'Dear Mr. Bock. We are not interested in your offer.' But I was insistent, I continued talking to them. After a while, they saw my point, and I have been dealing with them ever since. We are fair and square with each other."
Pressed further for his formula for gaining friends in the most remote recesses of the Kremlin, Bock said, "I always tell them I am a capitalist, making no attempt to hide that I am working for profit. They accept it. They love it."
That seems all too simple. But whatever the reasons, the Soviets trust Bock. As one Russian told Wussler, "All U.S. networks are bad, but you are less bad, because you know Lothar Bock." By October 1976, with Bock running interference, Wussler and Taylor felt they were on the brink of closing a deal. "We had contracts all drawn up between CBS and the organizing committee," says Wussler. They came triumphantly back to New York to tell the network the Olympics were wrapped up, and arranged a big party for the Russians at the IOC meetings that were scheduled in Barcelona a day later. Wussler was packing to go to Spain when he got the stunning news: Taylor had been fired by Paley.
If there is one thing the Soviets understand with razor-sharp clarity, it is the sudden purge of high-level personnel. And it makes them nervous. "They were shook, I mean shook!" says Wussler, who six months before had moved up from head of CBS sports to the presidency of the network. "I tried to assure them it had nothing to do with the Olympics, but it was hard for them to believe." Even the sprightly Bock was numb—for a while. Then he phoned Wussler and said. "I think if Mr. Paley would come to Moscow himself, we could put the deal together again." Wussler doubted whether Paley would agree, but when he asked him to go, Paley's only question was "How soon do we leave?" Early in November, the patriarch of American television and a leading patrician of world capitalism was welcomed with almost adoration by the old Ukrainian laborer, Novikov. They toasted each other warmly during a lavish dinner of chicken Kiev fit for a czar. Then, after two long days of meetings, the two old lions had a t�te � t�te in a small room. They toasted each other. They shook hands. Wussler recalls, "Mr. Paley and I left Moscow with the definite feeling that the deal was firm."
Oddly, nothing further was heard from Moscow until Dec. 8. Then the networks received a communication outlining the framework under which the final bidding for the rights would take place. It was an amazing document. Only ABC's men had heard anything like it mentioned in Montreal, and nothing resembling it had come up in CBS' private talks. No one was quite sure what it meant.
Nevertheless, all three networks went to Moscow to find out. NBC was planning to seriously enter the fray now. Robert Howard, president of the network, went to Moscow along with Lindemann and nine other executives and technicians. "Most of our guys had never been to Moscow," says Lindemann. "I had been there only four times. I was surprised when Wussler said he had been there 11 or 12 times."
When the Americans arrived for the showdown on Dec. 15, two of the networks—CBS and ABC—were dead certain they had been chosen. Only NBC figured it was an underdog, and it was correct. NBC was about as far under as a dog could be. Novikov could never remember the network's call letters; even during the final signing, he twice referred to it as ABC.
Nevertheless, the Soviets treated the three networks exactly the same—like dirt. One by one, they were informed of the new conditions for bidding—which were outrageous. For one thing, the U.S.S.R. demanded $50 million for equipment and facilities, to be paid in staggering increments of $20 million in 1977 and $30 million in 1978.