by Brian M. Raftery and Josh Young
For Michael Ovitz, the ”$treet” was hardly paved with gold. On Aug. 8, the erstwhile super-agent laid off 18 of the 36 employees at Artists Television Group, the arm of his two-year-old Artists Management Group that produced TV duds like Fox’s ”The $treet.” But can the 54-year-old former head of Creative Artists Agency — whose current clients include Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, Robin Williams, and Katie Couric — recover from his latest financial reverses?
WHAT AILS HIM Last year, ATG landed four programs on prime time, including ”Cursed,” ”Madigan Men,” and ”Grosse Pointe.” None are returning. The company has only two new shows this fall: Ellen DeGeneres’ CBS variety show and the WB’s ”Lost in the U.S.A.”
WHAT HAUNTS HIM In 1996, after 14 months as president of Disney, company head Michael Eisner dismissed him. Since then, Ovitz has spent much of his time — and estimated $90 million severance — investing in sports (a failed bid for a pro football franchise in L.A.) and stage (joining scandal-ridden Broadway firm Livent).
WHAT IT’S COSTING A Hollywood adage says never spend your own money. But Ovitz has burned as much as $88 million of his estimated $130 million fortune on the new venture, according to industry sources, with no sign of profits on the horizon (at least from TV). ”He has an unsustainable business model,” says one top agent. ”There is too much going out and not enough coming in.”
WHO’S GLOATING Who isn’t? ”To finance a television business yourself is insane,” says veteran TV producer Bernie Brillstein. ”We always had someone else pay. His ego has taken him over the edge. He’s got three times as many people as he needs.”
WHO’S BOLTING No one yet, but stars tend to flee a sinking ship — and the news that DiCaprio has formed his own production company isn’t reassuring. Still, supporters note that Ovitz has had almost as many comebacks as collapses. Says producer Mark Johnson, ”I wouldn’t bet against him in any business venture.”