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Turner turns to Sassa as point man on big deal

As Ted Turner’s acquisition of New Line Cinema and Castle Rock Entertainment moves closer to completion, Turner Entertainment Networks president Scott Sassa, 34, has emerged as the key executive in integrating the two companies into a burgeoning global entertainment empire.

Sources close to Turner said Sassa has not only the boss’s confidence, but a clear vision of how to exploit the resources of New Line and Castle Rock to fuel the company’s growth around the world.

Meanwhile, Turner’s board is slated to meet Tuesday, and the New Line buy is expected to pass. All the behemoths involved — from Sony, which owns 44% of Castle Rock, to Time Warner and Tele-Communications Inc., major shareholders of Turner — will “want to extract their pound of flesh,” as one Wall Street wag put it, but it appears that all parties are interested ultimately in working out some kind of amicable arrangement.

“Scott is savvy enough to know that Turner can live with continuing some form of distribution deal with Sony to make the Castle Rock deal happen,” a Turner insider said. “He’s also smart enough to know that by bringing in Castle Rock, he’ll have arguably Hollywood’s best team and that the best thing to do is give them room to do what they’ve already been doing.”

Turner advisers and confidants pinpoint Sassa as the one responsible for the recent growth of the entertainment side of the house. It was Sassa who created the look and feel of TNT. His peers regard him as a team builder and visionary. He’s expected to be Turner’s point man on building the company’s interactive media profile.

The acquisitions fit neatly into Turner’s global march, giving the company product and management for future expansion. Turner already has an international sales force in place for TV and homevideo distribution of its indigenous product and its MGM library, which with a little tweaking could easily handle New Line and Castle Rock product.

Bringing New Line and Castle Rock under the Turner umbrella also enables the company to exploit the coming 500-channel universe, both here and abroad.

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