For the past decade or more, media pundits have become entranced with the image of an interactive television enabling couch potatoes to order up a movie and a pizza from a menu of screen offerings.

So it seems only appropriate then that the man most responsible for making that Jetsonian vision into reality is Steve Case, the baby-faced 41-year-old whose past life included a stint at Pizza Hut coming up with new pizza toppings. One of his innovations, it is said, was pineapple.

Such a grounding in consumer tastes might explain why America On-line has become so popular that it now boasts eight times as many subscribers as its nearest competitor. Except that AOL's history is so littered with operational potholes, that his success owes more to persistence than it does product development and execution. Service connections broke down so often that AOL became known for a while as America On Hold.

Today, of course, AOL's inauspicious beginnings are quickly forgotten in the wake of Case's rapid rise up the to the top (as quickly in fact as Ted Turner's ignominious launch of CNN, dismissed at the time as the Chicken Noodle Network). The Hawaiian-born Case sits astride an empire that not includes CNN, and its global audience of one billion viewers, but the rest of the Time Warner sprawl as part of a conglomerate that ranks as America's fourth largest. Turner may be much richer, for now, but he still plays second fiddle to Case as his vice-chairman.