Just How Many UTA Partners Are in Play?

Maybe, instead of worrying about Earth Day and boasting how he took the Santa Monica bus to work today, Jim Berkus should be focusing all his attention on making sure his United Talent Agency doesn’t unravel over the next few weeks and months. Because nearly every UTA partner is in play right now (so much so that some junior UTA agents, with the hope of getting their pay upped, have been spreading rumors that even they are being courted).

CAA, Endeavor, ICM and Paradigm have been chumming the waters to see which UTA sharks they can catch. Tracey Jacobs, David Kramer, David Guillod, Blair Belcher and even Darren Statt are all being courted. CAA’s Richard Lovett, for instance, is calling Kramer twice a day.

It’s not true that UTA partner Tracey Jacobs is heading to Endeavor with Johnny Depp and other clients in tow. No deal is in place yet, even though her people are calling agencies with a price quote for her. Problem is, she can’t leave UTA without also leaving a shitload of money behind. Several million dollars. Because, in addition to Johnny Depp, she has two big TV stars involved in UTA television packages: William Petersen in CSI and Vincent D’Onofrio in Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

Because of these golden handcuffs on her wrists, no agency wants to write that huge check. The strategy is that they’ll slow-play her — in other words, wait for her to get so desperate to leave UTA that she’ll agree to take less. I understand Depp has told her he’ll go wherever she goes.

Meanwhile, UTA and Endeavor are still fighting over how to unlock the golden handcuffs on those recent defectors Nick Stevens (also a UTA owner), Lisa Hallerman and Sharon Sheinwold, as well as Marc Korman, UTA’s TV packaging partner. I hear there was an unsuccessful attempt at rapprochement yesterday morning at the Intercontinental Hotel in Century City between UTA’s Jim Berkus, Jay Sures and COO Andrew Thau, and Endeavor’s Rick Rosen, Adam Venit and COO Tom Maguire. Explains a UTA source, “We’ve been up and down. There are issues, definitely. We came very close to a deal, and we expect to make one shortly. Neither side wants to have costly litigation.”

If UTA stupidly smacks the trio with a lawsuit, I can’t wait for all the secrets to spill about the ten-percentery.

Why Les Moonves Is the Biggest Loser

This joint premium TV channel announced by Viacom, Paramount (including Paramount Vantage), MGM and Lionsgate, in the words of one insider to me, “royally screws” Les Moonves — because his CBS Inc.’s Showtime had been in protracted discussions to renew its theatrical-output deals with Paramount, MGM and Lionsgate. I’d been told that the negotiations between Moonves on one side, and Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman and Paramount boss Brad Grey on the other, had not been going well in recent months. Moonves wanted to drastically cut the price for Paramount pics, arguing that “the pay-channel world isn’t what it used to be” and the value of movies on pay TV has decreased while the importance of hot new scripted original series has increased.

I’m told that the Paramount/Viacom camp lost patience with Moonves’ “hard line” and resented being low-balled. Now it looks like Les over-negotiated, because Paramount, MGM and Lionsgate have found refuge, thanks to Viacom. It’s that old Hollywood maxim at work: Don’t get mad. Get even.

“I don’t think Les ever believed that we would form our own channel. Certainly we never discussed it,” an insider tells me. “But then it became clear that the numbers on an economic basis make more sense for us to own the channel and have equity. We would rather control our own destiny. So we turned a negative into a positive.”

Another source told me, “Les is royally screwed. There are no studios left not spoken for. Now this new venture is a competitor to produce original programming too. And remember that Lionsgate also produces Weeds, one of Showtime’s big series.”

Making the situation even more awkward is that Moonves is good friends with both MGM chief Harry Sloan and Lionsgate boss Jon Feltheimer. But then half the fun of being a Hollywood mogul is being able to shiv your pals. Or your corporate colleagues.

Back in 2005, Moonves took over CBS Inc., including the network, the pay-TV and TV production, radio and outdoor advertising ­— while Dauman took over the bigger Viacom, with its cable networks and movie studio. At first, CBS stock was outperforming Viacom, which finally in 2007 had a better year than CBS. (But Dauman made 56 percent less than Moonves.)

Then there’s parent company Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone, who keeps pitting Moonves against Dauman, and that’s exactly what is happening with today’s announcement. After all, Redstone gave Moonves the go-ahead to compete with Viacom/Paramount by allowing CBS Inc. to start its own movie-production division.

So why shouldn’t turnabout be fair play? In fact, Moonves recently said, “If Paramount wants to get into the television business, we’d be very respectful of that.” Hmm, let’s see.

Edward Norton vs. Marvel, “Hulk” Round 2

Since I broke the story of the feud surrounding The Incredible Hulk, I thought I’d end the story too. Edward Norton and Marvel Studios have “settled their issues,” after clashing over how to cut the $150-plus million pic, an insider tells me. “But what people will see is Marvel’s cut of the movie. This is not the Edward Norton cut, by any means. His opinion is their cut is valid because probably it’s going to make a lot of money. And he recognizes that, if you’re a businessman, that makes sense. But he would have released something a little longer, a little more character-driven.”

Now remember that Norton was promised big involvement. A Norton insider insists to me that the actor is not going to cause a public stink. “He’ll do stuff for the movie, certainly,” my insider insists. “He really does want people to see the movie and let it speak for itself.” Added a source at Universal, “Edward never does a lot of publicity, anyway. But we understand he’ll do important publicity.” I bet he does next to none.

I’ve said before that Edward Norton’s warm support of The Incredible Hulk is vital if the pic’s gonna have any street cred. Now the movie’s core fans know that Marvel put commercial viability ahead of character development. It was always a risky gambit for Marvel to start self-financing its comic-book movies. So, if this film disappoints, it’s all Marvel Studios chairman David Maisel’s fault. As an insider put it, “Maisel is an ass. There’s truth in that statement.”

Meanwhile, I’ve been seeing ridiculous projections for this summer’s other Marvel production, Iron Man, when it opens on May 2. Not that the sight of Marvel, who put up the money, and Paramount, the distributor, tearing their hair out over too-high expectations isn’t immense fun. But there’s a need to put forward some realistic numbers.

Forget those $80 million or even the wild $100 million predictions for the three-day opening weekend in around 4,000 theaters. Paramount is telling me privately that its opening estimate is $60M to $70M. Remember, Sony’s Spider-Man broke the bank with $115M because it was one of the best-known in the stable. Uni’s The Hulk opened to $62M, Fox’s Fantastic Four to $56M and its X-Men to $54M.

Iron Man isn’t exactly Marvel’s best-known comic-book character. And star Robert Downey Jr. has never been able to open a movie. And the Iron Man action-figure toy sitting on my desk is cheesy beyond belief. Most importantly, the beyond-hot video game Grand Theft Auto IV is released on April 29. But Iron Man’s marketing has been smart, and the trailer plays swell. Now, I hope, you’ll ignore all that opening-numbers crazy talk.

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