Some Things to Be Thankful for at Holiday Time

The holidays are a brutally depressing time for entertainment business columnists.

All the movers and shakers temporarily move to places like Vail, Aspen and Maui and even their functionaries seem to run out of functions. Certainly business is happening somewhere--on a snowy slope or at some exotic beach resort. But for a short and troubling time there's the feeling of dislocation that comes from being "here" when everyone else is "there."

The Thanksgiving weekend marks the start of that period, which explains the full and complete absence of news in today's column. This space could have been filled with a timeless feature on the holiday box office or problems at Sony Pictures. But why take the easy way out? Instead, here's a list of the 10 things to be most thankful for this holiday season.

That you're not Michael P. Schulhof: It's hard to imagine any executive in the recent annals of show business who's had a worse year. Long-running criticism of Sony Pictures, which is under Schulhof's auspices, climaxed last week with the news that Sony Corp. had taken a $3.2-billion financial hit on the studio. Earlier, Schulhof presided over the messy and expensive resignation of Sony Pictures Chairman Peter Guber. And even when he did something that reflected some savvy--such as hiring former CBS executive Jeff Sagansky as his second in command--Schulhof managed to do so in a manner that alienated many of his senior executives.

That Anne Rice was wrong, then right: The hugely popular horror novelist stunned Hollywood with her charge that Tom Cruise had been horrifically miscast in the leading role of "Interview With the Vampire." Then she shocked Hollywood again with an equally strong mea culpa after seeing the finished film. Good thing. Hollywood relies on the success of glossy big-budget movies such as "Interview" as much as vampires rely on blood. The failure of "Interview" would have cut into the holiday box office and cast a pall over the entire industry.

Quentin Tarantino: Fresh and provocative works like "Pulp Fiction" and his earlier "Reservoir Dogs" inspire passionate discourse among filmgoers, which is also healthy for the industry. Although Tarantino's taste for violence turns some people off, it's his wicked humor that leaves the most lasting impression. With "Pulp Fiction" several weeks out of the box, you can still find people arguing its merits from office water coolers to college film classes. The soundtrack, propelled by trippy surf music, also has more life than most recent recordings.

That you're not Robert Morgado: Here's one of the industry's great ironies. Morgado spent much of his career as Warner Music Group chief trying to gain control over Warner Records, the industry gem that was independently managed by Mo Ostin. But Morgado's Machiavellian moves ultimately cost him dearly. The realignment at Warner set off an executive revolt, which resulted in Doug Morris' becoming domestic music czar. Morgado was left with international.

The return of the major TV networks: Written off as thoroughly as Nixon was after Watergate, they rebounded this year as the darlings of the media world, assuring plenty of interesting deal activity down the line. CBS and General Electric's NBC were subjects of intense takeover discussions, and Capital Cities/ABC enjoyed a banner year. The current wisdom is that cable viewership is too fragmented and broadcast networks make great assets.

Jim Carrey: Like Tarantino and other true originals, he enlivens everything he touches and makes people want to go to the movies. Carrey was talented enough to mine humor out of a dog of a role like "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective." Then "The Mask" proved the former stand-up comedian and TV performer a bona fide star. "Dumb and Dumber" should extend that streak.

Ted Turner: In a world of image control and earnest executives, he can still be counted on to slip gloriously into his "Captain Outrageous" persona now and then. Turner's public pursuit of NBC and his broadsides at colleagues who rained on his parade (such as his "Up yours, Kay!" when USA Network's Kay Koplovitz questioned his strategy) make the media world a more interesting place. Turner's acquisitions of New Line Cinema and Castle Rock Entertainment also made him a significant Hollywood player. Partners Time Warner and TeleCommunications Inc. may never give Turner his full freedom, but they will always know where he stands.

That you're not Martin Davis: Sure, he pocketed more than $50 million from the sale of Paramount Communications. But money isn't everything. Davis was trashed for his custodianship of Paramount, saw his friendly merger deal with Viacom Inc. torn apart and never overcame a public reputation for mean-spiritedness. On top of all that, he had to watch his successors receive all the credit for "Forrest Gump." The $300-million box office phenomenon got the go-ahead on his watch. Davis was last seen starting an investment company called Wellspring Associates.

The Dream Team: Whether you consider them the Second Coming or a second helping of hype, the Jeffrey Katzenberg-Steven Spielberg-David Geffen union dramatically changes the Hollywood dynamic by mere virtue of their combined power. And now comes the fun part: watching what they do with all that power. Word is that the three executives will soon unveil an actual name and a logo for their studio. They are also said to be in advanced negotiations to take over space in Playa del Rey. In the meantime, look for the first of their deals to begin surfacing.

The intersection of Hollywood and Technology: At the entrance to the superhighway stands the deal, which has made for some truly awkward and entertaining pairings this year. Early stories about Armani-suited Hollywood agents courting sandaled Silicon Valley techno-nerds have given way to more substantive news--such as Creative Artists Agency's alliance with three Baby Bells, after the Bell Atlantic-TCI merger plan fell through. As the Information Age unfolds, the pressure on companies to be well positioned will only intensify. That means many more mating dances to come, producing good marriages as well as matches made in hell.

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