To paraphrase Tolstoy, happy mergers are all alike, but every unhappy merger is unhappy in its own way. You’ll find plenty of both packed in our seventh annual Power Issue, with enough enigmatic characters and shocking plot twists to fill a Russian novel. Time Warner and Turner Broadcasting, Seagram and MCA, Disney and ABC, Westinghouse and CBS — we peek through the keyholes of Hollywood’s biggest corporate marriages and tell you how their honeymoons are going.
Speaking of war and peace, you’ll read about friction at Disney, between Michaels Eisner and Ovitz, as well as the escalating cable-TV battles between News Corp.’s Rupert Murdoch and Time Warner’s Gerald Levin and Ted Turner.
We’ll check in on the existential crisis on the Sony lot, where even the company cossacks are praying that John Calley, Jeff Sagansky, and Lucy Fisher can perform a long-needed resurrection. We’ll also deliver a Q&A with former Fox and Paramount honcho Barry Diller (a man who seems to personify power, even though he remains on the sidelines), take a look at power’s next generation (featuring Eastwood’s, Eisner’s, and Murdoch’s kids, plus others who are taking their birthrights very seriously), and serve up a special Power Diet (guaranteed to make you a lean, mean, Armani-suited machine).
Finally, there are reports on who’s rising, who’s falling, and who appears to have stalled — all of that in addition to the 101.5 most powerful people in entertainment. And get this: One of them isn’t even out of diapers yet! Bet you never read that in Tolstoy.
CHMN., CHIEF EXEC., NEWS CORP.
LAST YEAR: 3
More than any other entertainment giant, News Corp. (including Twentieth Century Fox, Fox TV, and HarperCollins) is subject to the canny gambles of one man. In 1994, Murdoch bought TV Guide for $3 billion, reportedly without consulting his advisers; last July, the Australian-born mogul paid $2.5 billion for the 80 percent of New World Communications he didn’t already own — much more than most onlookers felt it was worth.
So what will he end up with for his money? The number of lucrative owned-and-operated U.S. TV stations in Murdoch’s power will rise to 22, giving Fox TV a direct stake in 40 percent of the nation — more than any other network. Meanwhile, his 130-plus papers worldwide have gotten even more profitable, and if his Asian satellite TV venture is losing money, his European one is in the black. Then there was a little movie called Independence Day. All told, Murdoch’s empire pulled in revenues of nearly $10 billion in fiscal ’96.
But not all is rosy. The Fox News Channel’s struggle to get onto cable systems has sparked warfare with rival Time Warner and old nemesis Ted Turner. In addition, MCI pulled out of a joint Internet investment, and fourth-place Fox TV is suffering from few hits. Murdoch, 65, responded to the latter situation with hands-on decisiveness, briskly replacing his TV chief.
It’s been 10 years since he launched Fox TV to the guffaws of the industry, attempting to create what he has called the U.S.’ ”leading… free broadcast television network.” He’s meeting that goal not as the tabloid dingo he once was — nor as the sly fox he’d like to be seen as — but as a calculating lone wolf.
CHMN., CEO, THE WALT DISNEY CO.
LAST YEAR: 1
CREDITS: Keeps tight rein on healthy empire, including No. 1 movie studio and theme parks as well as TV studio (Home Improvement, Ellen) and Times Square overhaul.
DEBITS: Hunchback turned out to be no Lion King, despite $97 million grosses; recent acquisition ABC opened the season by sliding to third place.
CHMN., TIME WARNER
LAST YEAR: 2
CREDITS: FTC-blessed $7.5 billion Turner merger makes TW world’s biggest media machine; quelled turmoil by replacing Warner Music head Michael Fuchs with studio chiefs Bob Daly and Terry Semel.
DEBITS: Continues to battle bad press, troubled stock, and $17.5 billion debt; can he keep his new partner down on the farm?
VICE-CHMN., TIME WARNER
LAST YEAR: 5
CREDITS: He’s now Time Warner’s largest and maybe loudest shareholder; not only kept control of CNN and his other cable channels but is running HBO as well.
DEBITS: The Mouth From the South is already butting heads with Warner Bros. CEOs Daly and Semel; feud with Murdoch threatens TW’s New York cable franchise.
SUMNER M. REDSTONE
CHMN., CEO, VIACOM INC.
LAST YEAR: 4
CREDITS: Juggles Paramount Pictures (No. 4 in ’96 domestic market share), MTV, Blockbuster Entertainment, and Nickelodeon (basic cable’s No. 1 channel); sold off cable systems to TCI for $2.3 billion.
DEBITS: Enormous $9.6 billion debt; unable to unload Spelling Entertainment; battling MCA in court over partnership agreement.