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The ''Dieter'' Principle

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It’s a controversy that would make Dieter, the avant-garde German talk-show host from the demented Saturday Night Live sketch ”Sprockets,” dance with techno-sadistic delight. Thanks to a series of ugly lawsuits between Universal Pictures, producers Imagine Entertainment, and comedian Mike Myers over Myers’ sudden departure from a movie based on his SNL character Dieter, the normally shrouded world of big-studio politics has become as transparent as Steuben glass.

At issue is a claim by Universal and Imagine’s Ron Howard and Brian Grazer that despite his repeated promises to make the movie Dieter, Myers abandoned the project in May. This after Universal and Imagine had hired first-time director Bo Welch, signed actors, including Baywatch hunk David Hasselhoff, and spent millions in preproduction costs. Myers, meanwhile, has filed a countersuit, claiming his script simply wasn’t ready — despite more than 20 months of work and 13 revisions — and that he would rather relinquish a salary upwards of $20 million than foist an unfunny film on the moviegoing public.

The court papers — all filed over the past weeks — offer a titillating glimpse behind the scenes of high-level Hollywood negotiations, particularly since the blitzkrieg of accusations has, as Dieter would say, ”all the subtlety of a flying mallet.” Imagine describes Myers, 37, as ”egomaniacal,” ”irresponsible,” and ”selfish,” and in its most inflammatory and mysterious charge, accuses Myers of ”inexcusable bigotry.” The Austin Powers star is swinging back, claiming the studio placed ”shortsightedness and greed above artistic integrity,” and further insisting he was ”emotionally traumatized” by the ”stalkeresque, thug-like outrageous and reckless conduct” of the Universal rep who served Myers with the lawsuit as he and his wife, Robin Ruzan, were returning to their L.A. home. Myers also paints a menacing portrait of former Happy Days nerd Howard, alleging the Imagine cochair threatened Myers by saying, ”It’s going to get ugly” if Myers didn’t commit to the current script. Even a near-divine intervention — an offer from DreamWorks deity Steven Spielberg to serve as mediator — couldn’t salvage Dieter. ”As friends of both sides,” says DreamWorks cochief Jeffrey Katzenberg, ”we tried to help them resolve it without lawyers.” Why didn’t they succeed? Says Katzenberg, ”With total humility, I have to say: It beats me.”

To learn what really happened, EW spoke to more than two dozen insiders, and though some agreed to speak only on condition that their names not be used, what emerges is a tense and difficult struggle that has, in the parlance of Dieter, opened up a whole can of wurst. (Myers himself declined to comment.) Now is the time in this article when we dissect the stickiest charges.

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