Murdoch slips at confab

Media moguls gone wild?

In a freewheeling interview at a New York media event Thursday, News Corp. chairman-CEO Rupert Murdoch caused a frenzy when he let it slip that Fox was reteaming with Sacha Baron Cohen on a sequel to “Borat.”

The news quickly spread across the Internet and traditional media and had phones ringing off the hook at Fox and Endeavor, which reps Cohen.

The only problem: it wasn’t true.

Sources close to Cohen said there was no deal on the table for “Borat 2,” and a News Corp. spokesman told Daily Variety that Murdoch “was under the mistaken impression that we had signed a deal.”

A 20th Century Fox spokesman said, “We’re eager to work with Sacha again and we’ve had casual discussions about a sequel, which we’d love to do, but at this point it remains too preliminary to discuss.”

Even before News Corp.’s retraction, Murdoch’s comments were puzzling. Fox passed on Cohen’s next project, “Bruno,” because it was too expensive (Universal paid $42 million for it; can “Borat 2″ be any cheaper?), and there has been much discussion that “Borat” will be difficult to replay with Cohen’s identity now so well known.

“Borat,” which cost $18 million to make, has grossed more than $225 million worldwide.

Furthermore, the timing of the news seemed odd considering that just a day earlier, at News Corp.’s announcement of its quarterly earnings, the success of “Borat” had been abundantly praised but there had been no talk of a sequel.

Even so, Murdoch seemed to know Cohen’s schedule. On Thursday morning he said after Cohen completes “Bruno” ” … Then he’ll come back and do a ‘Borat 2.’”

But Murdoch didn’t stop with the “Borat” comments. He also waxed on about politics; jovially refused to name an heir; predicted $3 billion in Internet sales down the road; and said he’d like to double down in India — China’s just too tough.

The mogul declared that he wants to meet Barack Obama, took a jab at Hillary Clinton, commented that Michael Bloomberg would make a great president and urged Newt Gingrich to consider a presidential run, saying the former speaker of the House would never win but would sure “liven up the primaries.”

Presidential aspirant Clinton is “calculating … she leaves her options open. She’s very careful in her use of words,” Murdoch said. He’s not supporting her and shrugged off a fund-raising breakfast News Corp. held for the senator from New York last year. “Some people in my office wanted to,” he said.

Bloomberg, who has not hinted at any plans, “would be a very able chief executive,” Murdoch said, and “could conceivably do very well on both coasts.” He praised the billionaire businessman’s “clean government” and ability to surround himself with smart people. “He’s a genuine public servant. He’s made a lot of money … and he’s all about giving it back.”

When asked about succession at his own media empire, Murdoch, 75, pulled a Sumner Redstone.

“I just want to live forever. I am enjoying myself too much,” he declared.

He insisted any of his children could be “great leaders of the company. But it’s too early to say.”

Ever since his older son, Lachlan, left News Corp., speculation has focused on James, who runs BSkyB. James has “made great inroads … but there are other good members of the family,” Murdoch said coyly.

As for the latest big wrinkle in News Corp.’s business –MyNetworkTV — Murdoch said, “We can afford, thank God, to make one or two mistakes.”

News Corp. announced this week that MyNet, which is being totally revamped, has been bleeding red ink.

Meanwhile, Murdoch is exuberant about MySpace and sees Internet revenue rising to 10% of News Corp.’s total (from 1% currently) in the next three to five years — taking it to “$3 billion and beyond,” he said.

And looking abroad, he likes the TV biz in Eastern Europe and Indonesia.

But “if there was any country today in the world I would double down on, it’s India,” he said. “There is a working democracy, the rule of law.

“China is vast, but China has not opened up yet. We keep a presence there. We’re going to behave ourselves and be there until we see a change in policies. And it will have to come.

“It’s a sovereign country, and that’s the way they do things, and we’ll just wait.”

Murdoch’s off-the-cuff remarks regarding “Borat” were small potatoes compared with other examples of moguls unleashing havoc with their remarks.

Not long ago, Viacom chairman-CEO Sumner Redstone caused sturm und drang — and a battle with CAA — when he criticized Tom Cruise’s behavior on TV.

And MGM chairman-CEO Harry Sloan ruffled New Line’s and Peter Jackson’s feathers when he stated matter-of-factly that MGM was making “The Hobbit” along with a prequel to “The Lord of the Rings,” and that he hoped Jackson would direct the films.

MGM and New Line split the rights to the franchise, and Jackson has said he won’t get back in business with New Line until his lawsuit with the company over profits from “LOTR” is settled. Subsequently, New Line co-topper Bob Shaye said of Jackson directing “The Hobbit”: “It will never happen during my watch.”

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