Tales of toil amid turnoil

Those of us who work in and around the entertainment industry are often asked, “What are the best jobs and how do I get them?” No one ever asks me a far more pertinent question: “What are the worst jobs in the industry, and how can I avoid them?” I have put together my list of the worst jobs on the assumption that someday, someone will ask me that question.

Here’s the list:

  • Tom Cruise’s press agent: I realize this job usually goes to his relatives, but that strikes me as cruel and inhuman punishment. Cruise can’t cross the street without causing a media storm. He habitually talks about subjects he shouldn’t go near, like girlfriends and religion. Imagine what would happen if he started throwing telephones? Sure, it’s hard to feel sorry for anyone making $80 million a year; I just wouldn’t want the job of explaining him to the public.

  • News director of any network: This used to be a good gig before Fox News came along. Now every TV news show is either too ideological or not ideological enough. And how do you go about choosing a new anchorman? If Walter Cronkite were 30 and had hair, Roger Ailes would have him brainwashed and turn him into Bill O’Reilly.

  • CEO of SAG: I realize Bob Pisano now has a successor, but who would want the job? The guild is run by unemployed actors who obviously want to foment a strike so that their confreres also will be unemployed. I wouldn’t want to have to preach love and amity to those folks.

  • Studio executive in charge of “Mission: Impossible 3”: After all those painful negotiations to bring the budget down to a mere $150 million, what do you tell Brad Grey when you start running over? You’ve got a superstar working with a first-time director on a difficult location. You’re also making a movie that probably will have to gross north of $500 million before the studio sees much of a return, so you’d better start looking for another job.

  • Agent for Sean Penn: I realize Penn is talented and directors like working with him, but he sees himself as the last angry man. Studios have to take out ads to apologize to him. If I were his agent, what would happen if I suggested he lighten up? Imagine what would happen if he started throwing telephones?

  • Chief fund-raiser for John Kerry’s next campaign: The presidential election is years away, but already the Hillary money machine is in tsunami mode. It’s easy to figure she’ll make the run because she’s assumed the ideological middle on every issue. The president can’t attack her because even he can’t determine where she stands.

Mind you, I’ve never been asked to sign up for any of these jobs. I’m certain someone out there would find them attractive. Just don’t ask my advice, is all.

* * *

Viv U’s Diller divorce

In selling his Vivendi Universal stake to NBC Universal, Barry Diller finally brought down the curtain on a truly bizarre series of dealings involving that august entertainment company.

I’ve never met anyone who claimed to understand the basic deal to begin with. Vivendi and Diller’s company formed a joint venture resulting in Diller almost, but not quite, running a new entity that he never wanted to run to begin with, which didn’t matter because it was soon sold. In the end, Diller received $3.4 billion as a sort of Nobel Prize in dealmaking.

My principal regret is that I never was privy to the conversations between Diller and Jean-Marie Messier, the self-anointed genius behind Vivendi. Messier, a man who never listened to anyone, supposedly was going to elicit the wisdom of Diller, a man who plays his cards so close to the vest that no one can quite figure out where he stands. The upshot was a company so dysfunctional that no one made any money except the lawyers, who spent years arguing about who owed whom hundreds of millions in taxes.

But it all ended happily. Messier is out of showbiz, which is great news for the industry. Diller got a big payday, which is what he excels in. And NBC Universal is back to turning out movies and TV shows, which is what it should have been doing all along.

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