Michael Viner and Deborah Raffin Viner, one of Hollywood’s most litigious and controversial couples, have departed Dove Entertainment Inc., the book and tape publishing concern famous for salacious titles on O.J. Simpson and entertainment-industry prostitution, the company announced Wednesday.
The Viners, who founded Dove 12 years ago and led it through a public stock offering as well as a series of recent money-losing quarters, relinquished their management titles and board seats to make way for new owners.
Media Equities Entertainment International, a partnership of investors led by former Viacom executives, earlier this year invested $4 million in Dove and recently bought more stock to reach a controlling interest in the company.
Media Equities partner Ron Lightstone, formerly an executive at Viacom and Spelling Entertainment, was named acting CEO of Dove, the company said.
Michael Viner, who, along with his wife, an actress, will remain a consultant to the company, said in an interview that the couple wanted to leave Dove to pursue independent movie and TV production projects.
“This was initiated by me,” Viner said, referring to the Media Equities deal. “I just think these people can bring more money and more contacts into the company.”
However, Lightstone, while praising the Viners for building Dove, noted in an interview that “the company [had] made mistakes,” including overextending itself with expensive acquisitions. “There were a couple of real bad quarters, but we’ve written off last year’s problems,” Lightstone said.
In the last year, Dove has been plagued by troubles inside and out. Although consumers shelled out $25 billion for books in 1995, the publishing industry is in the doldrums, with a number of major players forced to trim their book lists and restructure to save money.
Yet Dove launched a major expansion plan in the midst of industrywide retrenchment. Flush with success in audio books, a medium they helped pioneer, the Viners broadened their horizons simultaneously into hardcover publishing, and TV and film production.
The company scored some early successes, such as Faye Resnick’s best-selling memoir about Nicole Brown Simpson and the scandalous “You’ll Never Make Love in This Town Again,” about a quartet of purported Hollywood prostitutes. Yet consumers have been cool to a number of subsequent titles, including books about the Menendez murder case and a tell-all by Dennis Rodman’s ex-wife.
Meanwhile, company officials have become courthouse regulars, as Dove’s business activities generated reams of litigation from unhappy authors and partners. The prostitution book, for example, resulted in three lawsuits from alleged contributors; their claims included charges that Dove had rewritten their manuscripts to include incidents that never occurred. The company has denied the claims. (One lawsuit was dismissed, two are pending.)
Upcoming Dove projects include an Oscar Wilde biopic slated for theatrical release, an ABC movie called “Unwed Father” and a Wesley Snipes vehicle for ABC entitled “Futuresport.”
Viner, while declining to cite specifics, noted that the deal would enable he and his wife “to come out very nicely.”
The future for the company may not be as assured. Lightstone acknowledged that he and his partners were much more familiar with television than publishing, but nevertheless enthused that Dove is “a terrific company with great businesses.”