What will Four More Years mean for the entertainment business? You don’t need a seer to read the signs: Say bye-bye to meaningful media ownership caps (that’s the true subtext of the Bush “ownership society”). Fox News and the Rush Limbaugh fraternity will become even more strident. TV’s network news anchors will grow warier as Dan Rather segues into a professorship at Harvard’s Kennedy Center. Clear Channel and Sinclair Broadcasting will go on a new expansion spree. Paramount may turn its “specialty” film division over to Mel Gibson. And the “Arnold Amendment” will start gaining serious momentum.
The good news? As a nation grows more discordant, its pop culture becomes livelier. The cinema of the ’70s did not stem from placid times. It was Ken Turan of the Los Angeles Times who reminded us of this memorable fragment of dialogue from “The Third Man”: “In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias,” said Harry Lime, “they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”
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And while we’re on the subject of politics, consider the task facing Disney’s newly appointed headhunter. His assignment is to find an executive with the skills to become Michael Eisner’s successor.
I don’t think I’d like to be either the headhunter or the prospective candidate. The CEO slot at Disney is not so much a job as a minefield. The big pension funds are hostile. The powerful corporate division heads stand alert to defend their fiefdoms. The creative community is distrustful. There are delicate issues of corporate governance and media regulation to confront. Not only is the board of directors edgy, but the shadows of Roy Disney and Stanley Gold loom large.
No matter who is advanced for the position, the second-guessers will be lined up. If a potential successor is strong on creative savvy, he will be accused of not being a visionary in technology. If he’s high on political connections, he will be taken to task because he’s lacking Hollywood clout.
Who’s the man for the job? There’s always Arnold, but he clearly is intent on taking over a vastly bigger organization — one with 50 states.
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As Tom Freston mobilizes Paramount studios for the post-Sherry Lansing era, the big question being asked by Hollywood is not Who, but How Much?
Though everyone knew Lansing was awaiting her exit visa, the maven of MTV insists he has given little thought to possible successors, and also seems ambivalent in terms of his commitment to production.
This is alarming to a creative community that has recently witnessed the fadeout of Miramax, MGM and UA and the prospect of reduced output from Disney, DreamWorks and Revolution.
Given this mood of austerity, does Paramount intend to stay a major player?
Thus far, Freston has seemed most interested in bolstering Paramount’s specialty division via acquisition of a Newmarket or even a Lions Gate. Understandably, he also is under pressure to unleash the talents of some of his MTV proteges, whose appetite for filmmaking was inhibited under the previous regime. This translates to low-budget youth comedies and surely a “Jackass II and III.”
Having sat on Lansing’s resignation for a week, Freston seemed oddly uncertain over how to disclose it. If he shows a similar uncertainty about film spending, Hollywood will start getting nervous.