Sure, David Letterman may be worth $14 million a year, but what about all those other superstars who have made überdeals in the past few years? Is Oprah Winfrey worth her current weight in gold? What can Jack Nicholson possibly do in one day that justifies paying him a half-million dollars for it? And can you really put a price on Mötley Crüe? Mind you, we’re talking about potential profits here, not entertainment value — if they were the same thing, Ben Stiller might be the highest-paid performer on tv. And remember, the dollar figure attached to each deal may shrink or swell according to each artist’s future sales (and figures are from published reports, as are contractual details). But enough with the fine print. Here’s our bottom line. — Bruce Fretts, Mark Harris, Tim Purtell, Daneet Steffens, Benjamin Svetkey, and Louis Vogel
Who pays: Sony
What it buys: Four albums from metal’s aging ninja warriors
Sales pitch: The group that invented the power ballad (with its 1976 single ”Dream On”) has sold more than 25 million albums since 1973, making it one of America’s most popular hard-rock bands. Its latest release, Pump, has already sold nearly 5 million copies.
Buyer beware: Aerosmith still owes its old label, Geffen, two albums, which means it probably won’t start recording for Sony until 1995 — when lead singer Steven Tyler and lead guitarist Joe Perry will be well into their 40s.
Are they worth it? NO
Who pays: CBS
What it buys: Five series over eight years from the producer who battled Delta Burke and won
Sales pitch: Designing Women came back from near cancellation shortly after its 1986 debut to become a top 10 hit. Both Hearts Afire (the first of the promised five) and Evening Shade have also visited top ratings slots.
Buyer Beware: Last fall, after being moved to Friday nights, Designing Women plummeted in the ratings, and Hearts Afire has its primo Monday time slot to thank for its showing. Plus, Bloodworth-Thomason has been spreading herself too thin lately (she even produced her buddy Bill’s inaugural).
Is she worth it? NO
Who pays: Liberty Records
What it buys: The next two decades of music from America’s favorite singer
Sales pitch: The deal waives the usual multimillion-dollar cash advances, multimedia opportunities, and multialbum commitments in favor of a mammoth near-50-percent royalty rate (putting Brooks in a league with Michael Jackson) on however many albums he chooses to put out in the next 20 years. Since his 1989 debut, he has sold more than $400 million worth of records. You do the math.
Buyer beware: Brooks did publicly ponder retirement recently…
Is he worth it? YES
JAMES L. BROOKS
Who pays: Sony
What it buys: Seven years of exclusive rights to future movies and TV shows from Brooks’ Gracie Films — including three series for which ABC is chipping in another $30 million; and access to Gracie’s stable of talented writers and producers
Sales pitch: Brooks’ résumé includes Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and The Simpsons.
Buyer beware: His first ABC effort under the deal, Sibs, has already bombed. The Simpsons, a Fox show, is not part of the package. And Brooks’ first film for Columbia will be (uh-oh) a musical.
Is he worth it? NO