SO IT’S TIME FOR another glimpse at the continuing adventures of Bob and Terry.With all its twists and turns, the Bob and Terry show could be grist for longform TV drama. Or comedy. Not that either would cooperate. They’re very private people who nonetheless have a habit of making headlines. It’s hard to think of other executives who have switched lifestyles as abruptly as the former Warners potentates. Terry Semel last week took the helm of Yahoo!, which is sort of like the ruler of an Arab emirate assuming leadership of a kibbutz. Yahoo! is a sleeves-up, sandwiches-at-the-desk sort of company where executives take the red-eye to avoid paying hotel bills. In his former life, Semel wouldn’t go from Burbank to Malibu without summoning the Warners jet. Tim Koogle, former CEO at Yahoo!, earned a base salary of $310,000 last year, which was roughly $19,700,000 less than Semel’s last Warners paycheck. Yahoo! execs shop at Costco; Semel is on the board of Polo Ralph Lauren. HIS FORMER PARTNER, Bob Daly, also has undergone a seminal change. Recently he’s had to cope with a trigger-tempered Dodgers general manager (he fired him) and with a manic outfielder named Gary Sheffield, whose antics made Steven Seagal and his thuggish entourage seem like Boy Scouts. Clearly Bob and Terry were not pining for a blissful retirement in Sun City when they left Jerry Levin’s employ. But were they prepared for such a ferocious third act? The answer is “maybe.” Daly’s a tough Brooklyn Irishman who loves baseball. Surely he understood that the talent purveyors in sports were easily as predatory as their movie counterparts. True, Daly hasn’t exactly had the same incredible luck in baseball as he had at Warners, but he’s just starting out. Semel faces an ever bigger challenge at Yahoo! The once-profitable Santa Clara, Calif., company is losing money big-time and is about to slash 12% of its workforce. Arguably, you can be a bigger hero rescuing a troubled enterprise than one that’s at the top of its game. MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE in dealing with Daly and Semel during their Warner days was nothing but positive. Daly was the ultimate straight-shooter who responded to questions quickly and candidly. When he wanted to take issue with a story or column, he was consistently both irate and respectful. Semel was famous for not dealing effectively with his phone list, but he was fair-minded and helpful. As studio chiefs, these were two consummate pros. Toward the end of their long regime, to be sure, some senior associates complained Daly and Semel were becoming distanced from the issues and personnel within their company — indeed, that they were becoming captives of their own great wealth. FURTHER, WHILE DALY and Semel were revered for their success, some insiders felt that the sheer profligacy of their dealmaking helped set the industry on a dangerous path. No one would put the industry’s fiscal problems solely at their doorstep, but it was Warners that paid the big bucks and pampered the stars with jets and lavish vacations. One lasting symbol of the Daly-Semel regime came when, at the end of the “Lethal Weapon II” shoot, Warners presented Mel Gibson and several of his collaborators with Range Rovers as surprise gifts. Their successors at Warner Bros. and the other companies are now complaining bitterly about disappearing profit margins, even as they face a new slate of demands from actors and writers. WILL SEMEL BE ABLE to inject new life into the Internet world? A thoughtful man, Semel has had time to study the brave new world of the Web thanks to his Internet investments, none of which exactly took off. This may be just as well in the long term — when the dot-com bubble burst, he had a front-row seat. Semel has a terrific Rolodex and has good connections with the advertising community. Someone with his knowledge base probably represents good casting for Internet companies as they’re propelled into the next phase of their development. So stay tuned to the Bob and Terry show. The next episodes will not lack for incident or verisimilitude.
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