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.”

Geffen, however, has been on his yacht, vacationing in the South Pacific, for weeks. And a Geffen insider insists that the DreamWorks partner and Zell haven’t spoken in months.

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.

Last weekend, during SAG’s National Board meeting at the Sheraton Hotel downtown, the board voted 60-40 in favor of a motion to refer it to the Guild Government Review Committee “for proper review.”

Now an argument has erupted over whether this was the right way to handle this issue, with formal contract talks between SAG and the AMPTP beginning next week.

“Petition leaders were not admitted into the room to speak on behalf of the measure, even though there is clear precedent for non–board members addressing such meetings,” a pro-petition leader, who asked to remain anonymous, told me. “That our proposal has now been referred to [the Review Committee] leads us to believe that there is not a will to address this issue seriously among current guild leadership.

“This much is certain: The effort to give working actors an effective voice in contract decisions will not go away.”

Who’s Harpooning De Niro and Apatow?

For most Hollywood agencies, A-list stars are the white whales of the biz, because they just don’t switch ten-percenteries that often. So the industry was gob-smacked when Robert De Niro left CAA and signed with Endeavor. My sources say it wasn’t primarily dissatisfaction with how his career success is now rooted in comedy rather than drama that led him to split but with the way CAA serviced his Tribeca Enterprises in film, television, film festivals, etc. Geez, I remember when CAA partners Bryan Lourd, Kevin Huvane and Richard Lovett made it a top priority, as soon as they took over the agency in 1995, to do everything they could to keep De Niro, since he was tied so closely to departing co-founder Michael Ovitz. But Endeavor has heat right now.

For instance, following those three UTA talent agents — co-owner Nick Stevens and his partners Sharon Sheinwold and Lisa Hallerman — to Endeavor were clients Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Jason Lee, John C. Reilly, Jason Segel, Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Amy Poehler, Fred Armisen, Amy Heckerling, Rob Letterman, David Wayne, Frank Coraci and Tom Dey.

UTA is still staking its claim to Owen Wilson, Patrick Dempsey, Jason Bateman, Paul Rudd, Steve Coogan, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and Saturday Night Live cast members Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Will Forte, Andy Samberg and Casey Wilson.

What happens with Judd Apatow, however, is anybody’s guess. True, the movie mogul is self-generating when it comes to projects and doesn’t think he needs an agent right now. But Apatow’s manager and producer, Jimmy Miller, has systematically put many of his UTA clients with CAA in recent years because of friction with Stevens, who has repped Apatow for seemingly forever. However, Miller is a close pal of Endeavor’s Ari Emanuel, who has mutual client Sasha Baron Cohen. So it will be interesting to watch where Apatow goes. About all the rumors, Apatow let me know: “I have not left UTA. I am in the middle of finishing a pass on a script and have chosen to deal with this issue when I am done in a month or two.”

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