MEMO TO: Kirk Kerkorian
FROM: Peter Bart
THE LEADERS of the brave new world of global show business are hellbent on new adventures these days, so you deserve some applause, Kirk, for reliving old ones. Rupert Murdoch is in and out of EchoStar; Universal is or is not talking with EMI; but you, Kirk, seem determined to pursue more familiar scenarios.
This is the third time you’ve owned MGM — that in itself is astonishing. And last week, you wrote a check for a mere $573 million to acquire Metromedia’s film and TV units, which include the Goldwyn library.
The Metromedia buy also had a familiar ring to it. Sixteen years ago, after buying MGM the first time, you paid $380 million to acquire United Artists, which also owned an enticing library. Hence, while Rupert Murdoch is losing sleep over satellite decoders and conditional access systems, you ignore this esoterica to hang in your old neighborhood.
A few months ago, I encountered you in a Beverly Hills restaurant and you told me, “I’m going to build MGM into something special this time.” Well, last week’s actions were pretty persuasive. The Metromedia deal adds valuable assets to your company — witness the $300 million-$500 million you picked up from the Kirch Group for selling German pay TV rights to as many as 600 pictures.
AGAIN, ALL THIS MAKES MGM seem like a viable entity once more, not to mention a candidate for a public offering.
But MGM has been there before. Hollywood still vividly remembers how deftly you turned the studio into a giant swap meet, buying, selling and trading the same assets over and over again until you had another billion dollars and MGM was a shambles.
To be sure, there were extenuating circumstances. You had been bankrolling MGM/UA for some years and a lot of people had let you down. In Hollywood, few people ever get a second shot, Kirk, but you’re getting your third. It’s a new ballgame.
And a lot of players in town not only envy what you’ve got, but also what you haven’t. For one thing, you haven’t got any $100 million disaster pictures fighting for shelf space this summer. There is no lava flow in any of your upcoming projects, nor are there sinking ships. Your schedule is clean, Kirk — so clean it’s virtually naked. But as Frank Mancuso, your astute CEO, points out, this may be a great summer to have a naked schedule.
CONSIDER SOME OTHER THINGS that aren’t burdening you this time around. There’s no David Begelman running your production program. Begelman was a charming and intelligent man when he ran MGM, but he never saw a check he wouldn’t cash. Frank Yablans is no longer your CEO. Again, Yablans could light up a room with his wit, but some of his deal memos belong in an art museum under abstract expressionism.
Despite all the bizarre managements you assembled in years past, Kirk, you always found ways to make money even as your companies were losing it. There almost seemed to be an inverse correlation between your wealth and that of MGM/UA. Given this arcane gift, it’s little wonder that you also made runs at Columbia, Fox and even Disney over the years.
Come to think of it, why was anyone surprised when you turned up for act III at MGM? The studio, after all, was in dire straits. The movie industry as a whole was facing a product glut, and Wall Street was looking askance at Hollywood’s reckless ways.
What better time, then, for Captain Kirk to take the helm yet again? If things were really that bad, there’d be a billion or so to make somewhere.
Especially if one knows the turf as well as you do, Kirk.