Meidel talks take a U-turn

U TV chairman, Diller reopen negotiations

One day after confirming that he’d be leaving the company, Universal TV Group chairman Greg Meidel and HSN Inc. chairman Barry Diller have agreed to reopen talks, and Meidel may wind up with Diller at the newly created USA Networks Inc. after all, according to sources at the studio.

The about-face signals that Wednesday’s break may have simply been a midpoint rather than the end of a tough negotiation process between Diller and Meidel over the manage-ment structure at the new USA Net-works.

The company, expected to be formed early next year, will encompass most of Universal’s TV assets, the USA cable nets and Diller’s Silver King station group, the Home Shop-ping cabler and Ticketmaster.

Whether Diller or Meidel blinked first and had second thoughts on Thursday is a matter of dispute. One source from Diller’s camp said that Wednesday’s decision to end talks “all came down to money. Meidel gave us a take-it-or-leave-it offer, citing indis-pensability, and we reluctantly couldn’t accept his proposal.”

Late Wednesday, a Universal spokeswoman had issued a statement saying “Greg and Barry Diller were unable to come to an agreement,” and Meidel “will not be joining the newly formed USA Networks Inc.”

Bronfman steps in

On Thursday, though, sources close to Meidel said that Diller and Seagram’s Edgar Bronfman Jr. ap-proached Meidel to ask him to recon-sider his decision. Others said that Meidel had “overplayed his hand” in dealing with Diller and had later softened his position a bit. Talks were expected to get under way as early as Thursday evening.

It’s unclear whether Meidel and Diller are quibbling over money alone or over Meidel’s exact role at the new company. Diller envisions creating a new broadcast-cable hybrid network combining the distribution of the USA Network cabler and the Silver King stations, with some programming being fed by Universal TV.

Some Hollywood insiders specu-late that Meidel may want the No. 2 role at the new company under Diller, overseeing the cable networks as well as Universal TV, although sources close to Meidel deny that. Meidel’s background is mainly in syndication sales, not cable.

Name game begins

Even if “the fat lady has not yet sung” on Meidel’s exit, as one source said, Hollywood was rampant with speculation Thursday over who might join Diller if Meidel leaves. Names floating around town included former UPN CEO Lucie Salhany, and former Fox TV Stations Prods. executive VP Stephen Chao, who also had a brief stint as president of Fox News.

Several rumored candidates for a top domestic syndication post were also floated, including Scott Carlin, the No. 2 executive at Warner Bros. Domestic TV Distribution, and John Nogawski, executive VP and general sales manager at Paramount Domestic TV, who still has more than a year to go on his contract.

Neither Diller nor Meidel returned phone calls seeking comment.

– Cynthia Littleton contributed to this report.

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