Rumor mill bounces off Teflon toppers

Virtually every executive in the entertainment industry seems to be changing jobs. That’s if you believe the rumor mill.

True, there’s been an extraordinary body count of late in the executive suites. Power shifts always trigger gossip about further upheavals.

Yet things have truly gotten to the point where journalists spend most of their time checking out rumors they know to be bogus.

Even some of the industry’s most durable figures have been enmeshed in the rumor mill — people who’ve long been above the fray.

Take, for example, Sherry Lansing, Les Moonves and Ron Meyer. These folks have been at the center of the action for so many years that even their detractors reverently refer to them as Teflon Warriors. So why are all those dopey rumormongers talking about them?

Sherry Lansing’s going to be forced out of Paramount? Give me a break. Lansing is approaching the 15-year mark as a studio chief (if you include her years at Fox). In a business of temper tantrums, she’s the Queen of Cool. In the Hollywood pantheon, where only a select few are known simply by their first names — Sumner or Rupert — she’s become deified as Sherry.

Sherry Lansing can make bad decisions. She can even have bad years. But she’s consistently delivered a successful slate of movies for Paramount, and there she was last week at the Golden Globes alongside feisty Scott Rudin collecting kudos for “The Hours.”

Like most studio potentates, Sherry spends most of her time saying no, but she’s transformed rejection into an art form.

“People almost like getting a no from Sherry just to study her process,” says one producer who does a lot of business at Paramount.

Sherry Lansing leaving Paramount? I don’t think so.

Like Sherry, Les Moonves will leave his perch atop CBS when he’s good and ready — if ever. In fact, he may shortly sign a new contract extension. Unless, that is, he opts to move up the Viacom pyramid. Or some other pyramid, as the rumormongers suggest.

Brash and high-spirited, with a voice like a Nantucket foghorn, Moonves, like Lansing, has been president of one thing or another for almost 15 years. In 1998 he levitated to CEO of CBS-TV and now also presides over the UPN network.

No one would ever accuse Moonves of being disengaged. He’s a hands-on guy who reads the scripts, checks the numbers and says exactly what’s on his mind. And having once trained under acting coach Sanford Meisner, he knows how to deliver his lines with maximum impact.

Les Moonves gets the job done, but he also adds some welcome showmanship to the process.

Combat ready

Which brings us to Ron Meyer, who some insiders regard as the Ultimate Survivor. If you walk from table to table at the Grill at lunchtime and ask diners whom they consider their best friend, two-thirds of the room would say Ron Meyer. As a young Marine, Ron was so proactive he quit the Corps because it wasn’t starting enough wars. Instead, he became an agent to guarantee more combat. Mike Ovitz, his erstwhile partner, once told me that, had Ron Meyer been on the Titanic, he would have commissioned the iceberg. On the other hand, Ovitz probably would have been steering.

After Ovitz blew his deal to head Universal, Meyer took the job. That was almost 10 years ago. Lately, the rumor mill suggests that Meyer may be stepping aside or becoming CEO of a rival company, but those who know him say he’s not going anywhere.

“He could outlast the Japanese and the Canadians, and he can outlast the French,” says one Universal colleague. He’s surely correct.

I have nothing against rumors per se. I just think Hollywood needs to raise its standards.

The stuff circulating around town is more like science fiction than legitimate gossip. There are enough fringe players to gossip about, so why obsess about the few symbols of stability?

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