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The deal that wasn’t real

Now that the distracting Universal-DreamWorks talks have broken off, Bob Wright, Ron Meyer, David Geffen and the other principals can get back to running their businesses.

To be sure, a few minor issues have been left on the table. DreamWorks inevitably will start shopping around for new avenues of distribution. Universal, which is investing megabucks in a new international distribution company, must assure its corporate parent that it can fill its pipelines. And other behemoths like Time Warner, Disney and Viacom are wondering if a DreamWorks acquisition might present an interesting opportunity.

On one level, the negotiations posed a classic example of Old Hollywood vs. Corporate Hollywood. Universal’s Meyer and DreamWorks’ Geffen, who spearheaded the talks, are worldclass dealmakers, but their dealings in times past did not undergo layers of corporate review. This time, once they’d made their deal, the corporate hierarchs came up with a better idea. The rest is history.

In all likelihood, the individual least distracted by these machinations is Steven Spielberg. He doesn’t need the deal and doesn’t need the money. Like his fellow billionaire filmmaker, George Lucas, he can afford to yawn, scratch himself, and go back to the cutting room. Even if DreamWorks moves elsewhere, profits from his gross participation in the Universal Theme Parks alone would finance any future movies he’d want to make (not that he’d need to tap into that resource).

DreamWorks has had a bumpy ride in recent years, flirting with serious financial problems before surging back to profitability. Its ups and downs underscored why a standalone movie company represents, to put it mildly, a precarious business model.

But while Geffen has to make his business work, Spielberg merely has to make his movie work. And there are no corporate layers involved in his decisions.

Clooney’s cool

Movie stars are bigger than life. It’s in their DNA. George Clooney, by contrast, seems a study in understatement, sometimes to a fault. He’s easygoing and self-deprecating. He seems almost apologetic about his stardom. He doesn’t even invite you into a his Scientology tent.

The movie Clooney just directed and starred in, “Good Night, and Good Luck,” was shot in black and white on a modest budget. It’s a smart and savvy movie and also a bit claustrophobic: I wish he’d spent twice the money and opened it up a bit, but then, that’s not Clooney.

Clooney gave himself a role in the film, but not the lead role. His character, Fred Friendly, the bombastic news chief at CBS, was a forceful defender of Edward R. Murrow, the distinguished newsman who is the lead in the movie (David Strathairn is cast in that role). Clooney plays Friendly as a cool, understated guy. Indeed, he underplays him.

I admire Clooney’s cool as well as his bold choice of film projects. There are times, however, when I wish the other George Clooney would assert himself — the actor who lost it on the set of “Three Kings” and punched out his director, the petulant David O. Russell.

We would like to see that Clooney emerge in his next film. And shot in color, too.

Nudge grudge

Surely, Geraldo Rivera never expected his non-nudge to get this much attention. Always an aggressive guy, Geraldo has received almost daily attention from The New York Times about his actions in covering rescue efforts during Hurricane Katrina.

The Times’ TV Watch column on Sept. 5 declared that Geraldo “nudged” an Air Force rescue worker out of the way so his camera crew could tape the scene.

Notoriously thin-skinned about the “liberal press,” Fox News and Rivera demanded a correction. The Times refused, explaining that the “nudge” word represented the television critic’s “figurative reference to Mr. Rivera’s flamboyant intervention.”

However, in scrutinizing the infamous tape, Byron Calame, its newly appointed public editor, concluded that his TV critic had made a “factual assertion,” not a “figurative reference.” The Times’ executive editor, Bill Keller, promptly ordered a correction to the non-correction, declaring that “The Times acknowledges that no nudge was visible on the broadcast.”

One can only hope that this incident will discourage both The Times from making figurative references and Geraldo from making flamboyant nudges.

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