A wish list for the upcoming season

Looking back on my formative years, it’s hard to overstate how much of my world view, my sense of humor and taste for twisted satire was shaped by Mad magazine.

One of my favorite features in the mag I waited eagerly for every month was the “Scenes We’d Like to See” panels. With apologies to, and great affection for, Mad’s usual gang of idiots, I’m borrowing the “Scenes” conceit to shape some thoughts on things that may be on the horizon for the biz in 2012.

‘Gate fate: For several years now, headline writers have been pulling for a merger between Lionsgate and MGM, if only because their shared lion motif is neat and clean, and lion is a short, headline-friendly word. Alas, at this writing the buzz is that Lionsgate’s courtship of fellow minimajor Summit Entertainment could be consummated in the new year. Fine, but let’s keep Carl Icahn out of it, OK?

Put up or shut up: There was endless talk this year about the majors experimenting with a premium VOD release window for new feature releases. But for all the hubbub, it was still only baby steps. The offerings that are out there don’t seem to have made a big impression with consumers, probably because the marketing has been so minimal and the titles have been so ho-hum. “Tower Heist” isn’t going to move the needle. It’s time to take that 30-day window gamble with a tentpole that auds are anticipating. How about “The Dark Knight Rises,” “The Amazing Spider-Man” or “The Hobbit”?

Showtime at the Apollo: Leon Black’s well-heeled Apollo Global Management has recruited Marc Graboff, late of NBC, to help steer the private equity giant’s stepped-up investments in media and showbiz through its CKX holdings banner. (You gotta appreciate a company that describes itself as “contrarian, value-oriented investors” in its “About us” boilerplate.) This should be a good thing for the industry as Graboff is savvy, well-connected and battle-tested over his nearly dozen years at the Peacock. But he’ll be challenged to make any sense of CKX’s disparate existing holdings. What’s the throughline between 19 Entertainment, which owns a piece of “American Idol,” Elvis Presley’s Graceland estate and name and likeness rights to Presley and Muhammad Ali?

Put up or shut up, part II: Microsoft has quietly been shopping in Hollywood for an entertainment exec, ostensibly to oversee new programming for its Xbox platform. Considering that the software behemoth could probably fund the combined annual development budgets of the Big Four networks out of petty cash, here’s hoping Microsoft has finally developed an interest in Hollywood’s core film and TV production business.

Scaling the walls: Warner Bros., Disney and other majors have been investing more and more in ventures in China, but some are wondering whether the flow of funds will become a two-way street. Sources who are doing business in China say that some Sino players are starting to poke around on possible media and entertainment investments in the U.S.

Hearst’s castle: Speaking of NBC alums, it’s been three years since Scott Sassa joined Hearst Corp. as prexy of entertainment. He’s been minding the company’s cable assets and helped orchestrate the 2009 merger of A&E Networks and Lifetime. But bizzers are expecting bigger moves from Hearst, especially after it bought a 50% stake in Mark Burnett’s production company in April with the promise of developing multi-platform content and live event extravaganzas. As Burnett is hardly the shy and retiring type, look for Hearst to make more noise next year.

Dolans’ destiny: Is 2012 the year the Dolan clan puts its crown cable jewels on the auction block? Speculation has mounted since the surprise exit of Tom Rutledge, Cablevision’s well-regarded chief operating officer, to join cable rival Charter Communications. Cablevision has streamlined its holdings to be attractive to another MSO through the 2010 spinoff of its Madison Square Garden unit and this year’s spinoff of the AMC Networks wing. Time Warner Cable would surely try to pounce on Cablevision’s 3.2 million subs on Long Island and environs.

Cable label: Speaking of Time Warner Cable, it’s been nearly three years since it was spun off from Time Warner proper. It’s time the cable operator came up with a new name, one that doesn’t conflict with the acronym of another showbiz entity, e.g. the Weinstein Co.

Emmy entreaty: 2012 marks my 20th consecutive year of covering the Primetime Emmy Awards. I’ve never asked for much, but I think by now I’ve earned a coupon for one free nom. Please, voters, honor the thin blue line and bestow a lead drama actor mention on Michael Cudlitz for TNT’s “Southland.” It’s the right thing to do.

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