Discussions with studios purely informal

When are talks just talks, as opposed to serious negotiations?

While the New York Times reported Saturday that DreamWorks is “in talks to join NBC Universal,” top-level insiders at several studios characterized the report as premature, emphasizing that the discussions — held with multiple studios — have been purely informal.

And given that DreamWorks’ pact with Viacom doesn’t expire for more than a year, it would indeed be unlikely that the DreamWorks principals have settled into any serious talks this early.

NBC U, DreamWorks and Viacom all declined to comment on the Times story.

Execs at those and other studios already had indicated — and repeated over the weekend — that DreamWorks has been playing the field. The New York Times story blindsided all of the companies mentioned, they said.

One source close to the DreamWorks situation said principal David Geffen is scheduled to dine this week with GE chief Jeffrey Immelt. But the source characterized the meeting as an informal chat about the prospects of a combination. Geffen also spent time recently with Rupert Murdoch and his wife, Wendi, in a similarly low-key mode.

DreamWorks is not likely to reup with Viacom. The company’s principals are plainly and publicly dissatisfied with the current pact. Relations worsened after DreamWorks’ recent run of hits made execs feel they had been shortchanged in the $1.6 billion deal.

The pique was mutual. At a September investor conference, Viacom chief exec Philippe Dauman scoffed at the notion of a financial hit to Viacom’s bottom line if DreamWorks exits.

There are potentially vexing staff issues for Par and DreamWorks when it comes time to disentangle, given how many DreamWorks employees migrated to Par.

DreamWorks would likely lose most of its projects in development, including the “Transformers” franchise as well as production deals with Ben Stiller’s Red Hour shingle, for example.

Another curious footnote to the Times story was the piece’s byline, shared by Sharon Waxman and Brooks Barnes. Waxman went on leave over the summer to focus on writing a book, “Stealing From the Pharaohs,” about the looting of art and other treasures in the Middle East.

(Tatiana Siegel and Cynthia Littleton in Hollywood contributed to this report.)

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