The deep thinkers in hollywood have been arguing all week about the impact of the shuffe at MCA and CAA, but there is one thing on which everyone can agree: It was good theater. This is important in view of the fact that management changes at the studios these days are covered by the press in all the lurid detail of an ongoing soap opera. Hence, the last-minute rewrite that substituted Ron Meyer for Michael Ovitz as MCA’s man of the hour was greeted as a sign of “sound strategic thinking,” mainly because no one expected it. And the dignified exits of MCA’s Grand Old Men, Lew Wasserman and Sid Sheinberg, also struck a note that was almost operatic. It will take years to evaluate the strategic wisdom of these moves, but meanwhile everyone is trying to figure out what really happened and who did what to whom. The East Hampton cognoscenti, egged on by the New York press, have already adopted one of their customary conspiracy theories. The whole MCA melodrama, along with just about everything else in Hollywood, was orchestrated by David Geffen, their theory suggests. Given this convenient explanation, one can hardly wait to see what Geffen will decree at Sony and Time Warner, either of which, according to conventional wisdom, could be the site of the next upheaval. The West Coast explanations tend to be more prosaic — namely, that the events at MCA were determined by, of all people, Edgar Bronfman Jr., who decided that Meyer represented, among other things, a better deal.
WHILE THE DEBATE RAGES, two intriguing individuals are standing on the sidelines saying absolutely nothing publcly. One is Terry Semel, who continues, on the one hand, to reiterate his lifelong commitment to Warners while sustaining fascinating conversations with other assorted power players. The other is Michael Ovitz, who, as the prophet of aikido management, now has the opportunity to exercise those talents at his own agency. While gossip is focused on Geffen, Ovitz and Semel, however, the two men who clearly face the public challenge are Messrs. Bronfman and Meyer. Corporate takeovers turn out to be more complex than they seem, and this might prove particularly true at MCA, an institution that uniquely reflects the style and philosophy of Lew Wasserman. A fiercely disciplined and orderly man, Wasserman was extraordinarily successful in imposing his will on an undisciplined and disorderly business. The fabled Black Tower that looms over the MCA lot is an austere symbol of his view of the universe. Stars might throw their tantrums, movies might tank, TV shows might be canceled, but it would still be business as usual at MCA and the Black Tower would still hover overheard.
WILL MEYER FEEL AT HOME in the Black Tower? Most of his career has been dedicated to performing tasksthat are the mirror opposite of those he will now have to assume. He has been an inspired seller, who now will be buying. A positive genius at persuading people to say “yes,” Meyer now will spend almost all of his time saying “no.” Indeed, the ultimate irony is that Meyer will have to dedicate himself to unraveling some of the extravagant equations that he and Ovitz concocted. Surely Meyer must have been amused by the press accounts of his character, which likened him to a cross between Jonas Salk and Mother Theresa. While he is indeed a very decent human being, Meyer also is manic in his competitiveness and as temperamental as some of the stars he has represented. At CAA he was the mollifier, as depicted by the press, but he also was the feisty ex-Marine who would lead the charge into combat when a hot deal or an important client beckoned. Even as CAA agents are maneuvering for control of his points — Meyer’s stake in CAA was between 22% and 25% — they’re trying to figure out who will fill his shoes. One small example: It was typical of Meyer to have taken charge of dispensing CAA’s myriad Christmas gifts, since he genuinely likes giving things away. But it was also typical of him to turn the ritual into a lavish assembly line, showering hundreds of mini-Cuisinarts and other personalized items on clients, assistants, secretaries, gofers and all others who were helpful in CAA’s far-flung business activities. “Ronnie created the monster,” says one CAA agent, “but who the hell’s going to take it over?” Just as Meyer would never be seen in the dark suits decreed by Wasserman, it’s doubtful that he ever would have erected a Black Tower. Yet he and Bronfman must now impose their point of view on an institution that is as tradition-bound as it is idiosyncratic. To the cognoscenti in East Hampton, this may seem like a piece of cake, but none of them has ever had to put together a slate of films — or attend the world premiere of “Waterworld.”