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Time for an attitude adjustment

The tensions gripping Paramount and Universal these days can be summed up in one word: attitude.

Over at Universal, the top players feel that General Electric, in short-circuiting the DreamWorks deal, revealed its ambiguous attitude toward its entertainment industry holdings.

G.E. is known to be fretful about the downturn in movie admissions. Further, consumers are being afforded new ways to navigate their media pipelines and it’s unclear how this will impact content-providers. G.E.’s ambiguity makes Universal and NBC nervous, and nervous executives tend to look elsewhere for nesting places.

If G.E. shows an absence of attitude, Paramount is suffering from an overabundance. Suddenly the resonant voices of David Geffen, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg are heard through the land jostling with the already high-attitude management team assembled by Tom Freston. Major restructuring already is occurring in Paramount’s distribution and marketing wing — the addition of Andrew Cripps, president of UIP, is the latest example. Rumors additionally envelop Gail Berman and others on her creative team.

Gossip can be denied and laughed off, but in an environment where filmmakers and agents await answers and careers hang in the balance, tensions of this sort can prove corrosive. Clearly Paramount needs less attitude and Universal needs an attitude implant.

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Elite heat

This is the time of year when Hollywood goes bipolar. According to the critics’ groups, the year in film was all about “Capote,” “Crash,” “Brokeback Mountain” and “Good Night, and Good Luck.” As far as filmgoers around the world are concerned, however, the year was all about “The Chronicles of Narnia,” “Harry Potter,” “Wedding Crashers,” “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” and “War of the Worlds.”

Arguably, this split universe is a positive force. The “niche” films need their kudos to help them reach wider audiences overseas. (Though will “The Squid and the Whale” really resonate in Taiwan?)

On the other hand, shouldn’t the craft of comedy find greater reward from the critical community? Arguably the talent and craftsmanship that went into the big animated and CGI pictures last year also represent the true Hollywood legacy and hence should be honored accordingly.

The awards process years ago distributed its plaudits in a vastly more eclectic manner. In the banner studio years of the ’30s and ’40s, Oscars went to the likes of “Gone With the Wind” and “How Green Was My Valley,” but also receiving nominations were terrific popcorn pictures like “Test Pilot,” “In Old Chicago,” “Libeled Lady” and “The Pride of the Yankees.” Yes, even a few comedies passed the test, such as “You Can’t Take It With You.”

The dangers posed by “elitist” awards groups were dramatized in 2004 when the five fiction finalists in the National Book Awards actually sold fewer than 10,000 copies in aggregate (one sold only 150 copies), thereby confounding publishers standing by to publicize their kudo winners.

So lighten up, kudo voters. A few laughs (and thrills) deserve applause, too.

n n n

Subhed: Aaron’s burr

The so-called Pellicano investigation has had Hollywood on high alert for over a year, so when the first “revelations” came forth last week they seemed downright anti-climatic. After hearing whispers of all the important names that would be drawn into the case, it turns out that Aaron Russo was the man who was being bugged.

Who is Aaron Russo? He’s a big, genial goofball who once managed Bette Midler and produced “Trading Places.” He also made a haywire gubernatorial run in Nevada a few years ago on a platform that was more nihilist than iconoclast. In point of fact, Russo doesn’t even try to make sense much of the time.

Russo also had a habit of getting involved in lawsuits over the years, and thus emerged as a tangential target of Pellicano probes. A former member of the Beverly Hills Police admitted he used his department’s computers to obtain information, then sold it to Pellicano.

I would assume other names may surface from this investigation to fulfill the dire warnings that Pellicano will bring down the high and mighty.

Meanwhile, some advice to Aaron Russo: Stop talking.

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