Company Town : Is Geffen's Song Coming to an End?

Brennan is a regular contributor to The Times

With a major shake-up already under way at Warner Music Group, record industry sources are speculating that one of the next seismic shifts may come at the top of Geffen Records.

Founder David Geffen has only nine months remaining on a personal services contract with MCA Inc., which purchased his company in 1990. Sources say Geffen is ambivalent about renewing the contract and has not even begun formal discussions with MCA executives.

Geffen and MCA declined to comment on his future, though MCA is said to view his chances of returning as slim. Although 14-year-old Geffen Records is having its strongest year and Geffen is close to MCA Chairman Lew R. Wasserman and President Sidney J. Sheinberg, sources say the 51-year-old executive may want to focus on other business areas.

"On an economic level, Geffen sold his label brilliantly, when it was the peak of the market," one colleague said. "He scored as big as you can possibly score. But I don't think his interest lies in building the label. He's an entrepreneur, and it's not his anymore."

After making $700 million from the label sale, Geffen became one of Hollywood's wealthiest executives. He is continually linked to rumors of a major studio or network investment but so far has remained on the sidelines. Geffen has also become a major benefactor of progressive political and social causes.

Sources say MCA would have a hard time devising a big enough incentive to keep Geffen on board, since his $600,000 a year salary is small change for him. Some colleagues also believe Geffen has grown restless with the record business. In an interview last year, he described his role as that of an adviser, saying, "I set a tone for the company."

Yet Geffen is still regarded as one of the industry's savviest executives. Said one observer who thinks his departure would hurt the label: "He is the brains, baby. When (the label) needs to sign an act, they wheel him out. It really, really helps. And other executives could leave when he leaves."

Geffen Records is expecting its best year ever, with $450 million in revenue worldwide from acts such as Nirvana, Counting Crows, Aerosmith and Beck. It will also acquire the rights to an album by the reunited Eagles under a legal settlement with Don Henley.

One area of increasing visibility for Geffen is film. His Warner Bros.-based company will release "Interview With the Vampire" later this year. Geffen Pictures is also making "Barney: The Movie," based on the popular children's show, and "Joe's Apartment," which was inspired by an MTV short.


Figure this: A plum job in Hollywood as head of a film company with deep pockets has been available for months, and nobody seems to want it.

The post is president of Turner Pictures Worldwide, one of three production companies under Ted Turner's umbrella. At least six names have been bandied about for the job. The latest to fall through was Amy Pascal, a production executive at Columbia Pictures who has two more years on her contract there.

Same song, second verse for Hal Lieberman, Universal Pictures president of production, who apparently was interested but couldn't wiggle out of his studio pact. There was a brief courtship of Eric Eisner, who headed Island Pictures. Not to mention the very brief discussions with Oscar-winning producer Arnold Kopelson ("The Fugitive," "Platoon").

Sources say Turner also got a pass from another Warner Bros. producer, Paula Weinstein ("Flesh and Bone"), who happens to be a good friend of Turner's wife, Jane Fonda.

But the biggest disappointment came when Dawn Steel begged off, squelching Turner's hopes of seeing movies like her "Cool Runnings" bulk up the Turner Pictures film operation. Says one Turner source: "Dawn was so close they had even knocked out walls to put in a closet. And a new bathroom was on the drawing board. The joke was Dawn has such expensive taste that when she saw the white fiberboard walls and furniture that looked like something from Ikea, it sent her running!"

So why are there no takers for the job? One reason is widespread concern that Turner Pictures will be treated like a stepchild to the cable mogul's two other production companies, Castle Rock Entertainment and New Line Cinema.

Another problem is that no one has quite figured out what becomes of Dennis Miller, who's in the job now. Although Miller has built a foundation for Turner in Hollywood through TNT movies and features such as the upcoming "The Pagemaster," sources say the company wants someone with as much feature experience as the chairmen of Castle Rock and New Line.

Scott Sassa, president of Turner Entertainment Group, would not discuss prospects or Miller's employment, other than to say Turner is pleased with Miller. Miller is said to be waiting to see what happens before deciding whether to remain. Sassa also said not everyone on the rumored list was necessarily a true candidate.

"For us, we are looking for the right person to make movies tomorrow. Right now we have the luxury of not having to rush in and hire somebody right away," Sassa said, adding, "We are looking for the right fit . . . someone to make movies that have a commercial appeal and are a complementary fit to our other operations."

Then he sighed. Every time he makes a comment like that, a flood of scripts pours in.

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