Biz nervous about new TW lobbyist

WASHINGTON — Lobbyists for the Hollywood studios got together for breakfast with Motion Picture Assn. of America prexy Jack Valenti last week. On that morning, however, the usual suspects couldn’t help but notice the empty seat at the table. It belonged to the newly merged AOL Time Warner.

Specifically, the seat belongs to George Vradenburg, AOL Time Warner exec VP for global and strategic policy and the top lobbyist for the newly merged conglom, didn’t show. (Word was he was still bogged down with merger paperwork.)

But some of the other lobbyists are concerned that the conglom’s interests may quickly diverge from the strict interests of the company’s film and TV arm, Warner Bros.

“I think everyone is concerned as to what company will show up at the table — AOL or Time Warner,” one studio exec says.

The MPAA cluster of studio lobbyists is also worried because longtime Time Warner lobbyist Tim Boggs has left, having resigned from his post last month when the merger was completed. Time Warner lobbyist Art Sackler also is leaving.

Not that Vradenburg doesn’t come with superb credentials: He’s an entertainment lawyer who’s worked at both CBS and Fox. He left Hollywood in 1997 to join AOL.

If Vradenburg — a Republican — didn’t show up for the MPAA gathering, he has at least presented his papers to Valenti himself.

“Not only has he called me, he had me to lunch, just before the merger closed and has been in touch with me since,” Valenti says.

“George is low-key, very intelligent, very inventive and I think he will do just great. He’s been in the business a long time, the movie and TV business, that is,” Valenti says.

Vradenburg tells Variety that AOL Time Warner will be an active member of the MPAA. He says AOL TW senior veep Jill Lesser — a previous AOL exec — will take the lead in day-to-day dealings with the MPAA.

“I think AOL Time Warner can bring a new perspective on how to protect Intellectual Property and, at the same time, utilize technology to foster more affordable and more convenient ways of getting content to Americans,” Vradenburg says.

One critical area where AOL Time Warner can greatly contribute to the battle for copyright protection on the Internet and on digital TV.

“Hollywood ought to be embracing AOL,” Media Access Project prexy Andrew Schwartzman says.

Schwartzman and others say Vradenburg is a tough negotiator, much like Walt Disney exec veep and top lobbyist Preston Padden. (Padden bitterly fought the AOL Time Warner merger.)

“If they can work together, and you have a Preston Padden on one end and George Vradenburg on the other, you are covering a lot of ground,” one Hollywood exec says.

Vradenburg says he’s never really left Hollywood, and still keeps a house in L.A. His wife, Trish, is a screenwriter.

For years, Vradenburg served as CBS general counsel, including during Gen. William Westmoreland’s libel suit against the net in the early 80’s.

In 1991, Barry Diller convinced Vradenburg to move to L.A. and become exec veep and general counsel for Fox Inc. As such, Vradenburg laid much of the legal groundwork for the launch of the Fox Network.

Vradenburg left Fox in 1995, joining L.A.’s Latham & Watkins as entertainment practice chair.

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