They'll Defend the Foxhole


As Rupert Murdoch's top two lieutenants, Peter Chernin and Chase Carey have a host of supervisory roles in the mogul's entertainment empire, from "Titanic" to "Party of Five" to John Madden.

Now add another job: taking the heat for Rupert Murdoch on the Dodgers.

Chernin, 46, and Carey, 44, are loyal and trusted Murdoch executives who have survived and flourished in the mogul's Darwinian management culture. Scores of talented executives, from television mogul Barry Diller to current Disney movie chief Joe Roth, have left Murdoch and his hands-on approach.

Chernin and Carey are now the two most important executives in the organization whose names don't end in Murdoch. They share the title of chief operating officer in Murdoch's umbrella company, News Corp., Carey also holding the title of chairman and chief executive of Fox Television. Chernin is also president of News Corp., and chairman and chief executive of the Fox Group, with duties that include all of Murdoch's North American businesses.

Technically, Chernin is Murdoch's No. 2, with Carey the third-ranking executive. In most businesses, such designations on the organizational chart might mean something, indicating who is in line to eventually take over. Not so in News Corp., where Murdoch has the final say about every important issue and both Chernin and Carey know neither will be his heir.

Murdoch always has maintained he plans to pass the company on to one of his children, and is now grooming his oldest son, Lachlan, who runs his Australian operation, to take over.

Chernin and Carey are contrasts in personality and style.

Carey is somewhat introverted, seemingly more comfortable behind the scenes, working as strategist, negotiator and financial wizard, than he is as a manager.

Recognizable by a handlebar mustache he has sported for years, he shuns the Hollywood lifestyle, preferring to live in Manhattan Beach rather than Bel-Air or Malibu. He also may be the only top entertainment executive without a car phone, something he disdains because his commute is about the only uninterrupted time he has to himself.

A former college rugby player at Colgate--that must have endeared him to Australia native Murdoch--Carey joined Murdoch in 1988, initially as his chief financial officer. He brings to the Dodger deal a particular passion for sports, being Murdoch's key negotiator in securing rights for Fox to televise the NFL, NHL and baseball.

"He's a big sports nut," said film producer John Davis, who has known Carey since they attended Harvard Business School. "He's a rare combination of someone who is athletically endowed, and intellectually inclined. Certainly for Harvard Business School, he's as athletic as anybody ever got."

Chernin, although far from being the quintessential Hollywood schmoozer, is seemingly more comfortable than Carey mingling with Hollywood talent, listening to pitches and making public appearances.

"He's the player of the two," said one former Fox executive.

A graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, Chernin is a former book publicist and editor who moved rapidly through Murdoch's operations since joining his television group from Lorimar in 1989.

Chernin later was chief programmer for the Fox network when it had such hit shows as "The Simpsons" and "Beverly Hills, 90210."

He became much more visible in 1992 when Murdoch tapped him to replace Roth running the 20th Century Fox studio.

Initially derided by some as a television guy who might have trouble making it in film--Chernin described himself in his self-effacing style as "a TV idiot"--his star continued to rise with Murdoch, thanks to movie hits "Independence Day" and "Speed."

It was Chernin to whom director James Cameron pitched a movie about a love story set on the Titanic, resulting in the $200-million-plus epic that once looked financially perilous for Fox but has turned out to be Hollywood's biggest grossing film of all time.

Chernin is well liked, known for a candor some find rare in the entertainment field.

"He's blunt and straightforward, very businesslike and not full of crap, which is a rare quality in Hollywood," said producer Davis, who has a film deal with Fox.

In October 1996, Murdoch, citing increased demands on his time, promoted Chernin to his de facto No. 2, naming him as News Corp.'s president. Chernin's second-in-command, Bill Mechanic, now runs the film studio.

Being Murdoch's point guys on the media mogul's latest acquisition, Chernin and Carey recognize that they are potential targets of fan and pundit wrath that inevitably comes with the territory for any sports owner. Publicly, Murdoch has kept a distance from the Dodger deal, not appearing at news conferences and preferring to keep Chernin and Carey out front, doing the talking for him.

So when the team fades in the stretch, or a popular player defects to a rival, Chernin and Carey may well end up in the line of fire. They also will be the ones tiptoeing around such delicate issues searching for ways to generate revenue to pay for the $311-million acquisition. No doubt, they will take the heat for more advertising signs in a stadium that historically has had few increases in ticket prices, or if Murdoch decides to sell the stadium's name rights to a corporation, which has happened at virtually every other sports facility in the nation.

During a news conference Thursday after approval of the sale had been given by baseball's owners, Chernin briefly let on that he and Carey already realize what's in store when he was asked if friends were advising him on signing star catcher Mike Piazza to a new contract.

"Chase and I were joking that we're probably going to have more controversy and temperamental attitudes toward us than anything else we've done in our lives over issues like that," Chernin said.

Should something unexpected happen to Murdoch, 67, before the mogul's son is ready to take over, Chernin and Carey probably would run the operation on an interim basis.

But in an interview with The Times, Murdoch once joked that the question of an heir is a moot point since has no plans to die.

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