By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
David Geffen Goes After L.A. Times Again?
I’ve written here again and again how much David Geffen wants to own the Los Angeles Times and put it back under local control, as well as make it a real must-read. But the Hollywood mogul was rebuffed first by the Tribune Co.’s CEO Dennis FitzSimons and then again by current owner Sam Zell. Now Geffen may be looking for a third chance to buy the paper. I’m told by a source that Geffen and Zell are back at the table. It’s all very hush-hush, but my source tells me, “Cash flow is not being met for the bankers, revenue is in free fall, and the potential liability on the [Sean] Combs story is huge. Sam feels he bought a bill of goods. Geffen is back in the mix, and he’s going to get it for a deep discount. They’re in serious discussions.”
Look, Geffen can be a great friend and a terrible enemy. And this is not a guy who likes being told no. Plus, anyone familiar with Hollywood knows how relentless Geffen can be: What David wants, David gets. As a source explained, “He has never stopped doing anything until he’s done.” So let’s go back to 2005, just before Dean Baquet became the L.A. Times editor in July, when Jeffrey Katzenberg sought a meet-and-greet to announce that his DreamWorks partner really wanted to buy the newspaper. Baquet was shocked. “How’s he going to feel the first time we review a movie or music produced by a friend of his?” Baquet asked. Katzenberg just laughed. After that, Geffen’s pursuit of Tribune’s troubled outpost didn’t flag — if anything, it got fired up — until Zell came into the picture.
Geffen eventually invited Baquet’s inside man, Leo Wolinsky (now the paper’s recently appointed features and entertainment czar), to his Beverly Hills estate, and they discussed the possibility of Geffen’s buying the paper with Baquet’s blessing. Ultimately, Geffen made a formal all-cash offer of $2 billion for the L.A. Times in November 2006, but parent company Tribune CEO FitzSimons rejected the bid. When Zell came into the mix, the Tribune Co. made clear it was selling the whole kit ’n’ caboodle to the Chicago real estate oaf in a complicated financial arrangement that threatens employee pensions.
Nevertheless, Geffen still hoped to land the L.A. Times. Geffen, who came to know Zell in Malibu, where they both have beach houses, proposed running the paper as some kind of joint venture to circumvent all the tax consequences and corporate regulation. But at a face-to-face meeting, Zell rebuffed Geffen’s overture.
Too bad. Geffen planned to make the kinds of quality changes on Spring Street that now sound like Nirvana, as Zell seems intent on running the place’s prestige into the ground. True, even Rupert Murdoch tried to talk Geffen out of his quixotic quest for the L.A. Times: “Every day is going to be a headache for you. I’m used to these headaches. You’re not.” But it’s well-known that Geffen is looking for a new challenge. The movie biz hasn’t excited him for years. His Dreamgirls pic was his last hurrah. And all that’s left is for him to move DreamWorks out of Paramount and into a friendlier partnership with NBC Universal and be done with show biz altogether. There are worse reasons to become a newspaper owner. Just look at Zell.
New Liners Worse Off Than Anyone Thought?
It may have been a Blacker Monday on April 14 than I or anyone first thought. As a soon-to-be ex–New Liner explains, “We were told in our pre-meetings yesterday that there were 575 New Liners being let go. They have still not circulated a list of the folks being kept at the new New Line. Some are being kept into the summer and even the fall to wrap up books and records and such ...” What an incredibly sad time for the employees. Time Warner notified them early this week that at least 450 positions will be eliminated in the reorganization by Warner Bros. to absorb the studio. Some 40 to 50 employees will remain with New Line, and about 40 others will be offered jobs at Warner Bros. I’m told the layoffs will be effective at the end of June. An insider reveals that, among the many layoffs, the entire physical production department is being shuttered.
Can’t SAG Members Act Like They Get Along?
Though the Screen Actors Guild started its official negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) this week, there was some internal business to dispose of first. For months now, a controversial petition was circulated, and signed by 1,500 actors, including Meryl Streep and Amy Brenneman, advocating “affected member” voting. It would require an earnings threshold to vote on SAG contract issues. Basically, actors who worked would have a vote. Unemployed actors wouldn’t.