Cover story: The most powerful people in entertainment, 1995

By EW Staff
October 27, 1995 at 04:00 AM EDT

1. Michael Eisner; Chairman., CEO, The Walt Disney Co.; Last year: 5

To millions of kids, power is a lion, perched on a cliff, confidently overseeing a vast but peaceful realm. People in entertainment harbor that image too, only instead of Simba, they see Michael Eisner. The gargantuan Disney empire — from theme parks to a hockey team to a proposed Times Square face-lift — may blanket the planet, but it all lies under the steely gaze of one man.

While Simba rose above sorrow, betrayal, and near death, Eisner followed a similar path to bind his global village together. Last year, his trusted lieutenant Frank Wells died in a helicopter crash. Studio chief Jeffrey Katzenberg battled with Eisner and rancorously fled for greener pastures. And Eisner underwent quadruple-bypass surgery. By the end of 1994, showbiz pundits were questioning the 53-year-old’s sovereignty. Silly them. With one swoop of his mighty paw, Eisner scooped up the No. 1 network, ABC, for $19 billion, plus good friend Michael Ovitz (the CAA superagent who used to be the most powerful man in Hollywood) to help run it. And, with a breezy sense of hakuna matata, he made it all look ridiculously easy. So easy that, by comparison, Time Warner’s subsequently proposed merger with Turner seemed prickly with regulatory problems. And whereas Disney and ABC’s stock rose with their announcement, Time Warner’s stock languished.

Eisner’s kingdom may not remain the biggest, and his arrogance is legend, but Disney is remarkably free of feudal challenges, it’s enviably solvent, and all of Eisner’s empire bears his imprimatur. The Lion King — which could become the most profitable movie and is already the best-selling video ever — gets the lion’s share of credit for last year’s $10 billion in revenues. This year the company is No. 1 in movie ticket sales and boasts 7 of the all-time top 10 videos and 14 million Disney Channel subscribers (second only to HBO in pay cable).

Some may criticize Eisner for favoring the bottom line over creativity, but there’s little question of his success. With that kind of power, it’s no wonder the rest of the world looks small.

2. Gerald Levin; Chairnman, Time Warner

Last year: 3 Age: 56 Credits: Burnished his battered image by masterminding bold acquisition of Turner, creating world’s largest media conglomerate; Turner’s cash flow is a nice asset. Debits: Stagnating stock prices; willingness to delegate has bred exec infighting; can he or anyone coexist with Ted Turner and John Malone?

3. Rupert Murdoch; Chairman, CEO, News Corp.

Last year: 1 Age: 64 Credits: Two mergers may have knocked media titan out of the top spot, but ruthless rep is secure, thanks to FCC ruling allowing his $9 billion Australian News Corp. to own a U.S. network (Fox). Debits: Until proposed Disney/ABC merger, he had a lock on forming the world’s most comprehensive TV-distribution system.

4. Sumner Redstone & Frank Biondi; Chairman/President, CEO, Viacom Inc.

Last year: 2/- Ages: 72/50 Credits: Media giant (Paramount, Blockbuster, MTV, Showtime, Simon & Schuster) seeing vertical integration pay off (Forrest Gump the movie, video, books, soundtrack, cable premiere). Debits: Debt from Paramount, Blockbuster deals temporarily halted further expansion; UPN continues to be a lightweight.

5. Ted Turner; Pres., Chairman, Turner Broadcasting System, Inc.

Last year: 6 Age: 56 Credits: Wanted to move out of “the cellar” and succeeded with TBS’ merger with Time Warner; five-year compensation package (reportedly in excess of $100 million) could make him the most highly paid No. 2 exec in the U.S. Debits: Claims he can play second fiddle after being his own boss for 22 years. We’ll see.

6. John C. Malone; Pres., CEO, Tele-communications, Inc.

Last year: 23 Age: 54 Credits: Complicated proposed Time Warner-Turner merger by gaining concessions for TCI, which controls 21 percent of Turner; head of nation’s biggest cable operator is now looming threat inside world’s largest media company. Debits: Style differences could make him and Levin a megamanagement odd couple.

7. Edgar Bronfman Jr.; President, CEO, The Seagram Co. Ltd.

Last year: – Age: 40 Credits: Set up $8.8 billion redemption of DuPont stock, grabbed 80 percent of MCA from Matsushita; didn’t land Ovitz to run MCA, but hired CAA’s less pricey Ron Meyer; closed DreamWorks deal; still controls 14.9 percent of Time Warner stock. DEBITS: Deep-pocketed, yes, but a Hollywood outsider; he could get fleeced.

8. Michael Ovitz; President, The Walt Disney Co.

Last year: 11 Age: 48 Credits: After CAA’s master power-monger couldn’t come to terms on the reported $250-million-plus job of running MCA, he then confounded everyone by agreeing to help run Disney/ABC with close friend Eisner. Debits: After years of calling the shots, can he work for Eisner?

9. Michael P. Schulhof & Jeff Sagansky; Pres., CEO/Exec. VP, Sony Corp. of America

Last year: 12 Age: 52/43 Credits: The $14 billion Sony has great assets, thanks to electronics, TV, music, and foreign units; Japanese owners are loyal to Schulhof despite huge studio losses. Debits: Their Columbia TriStar is still second tier.

10. Bob Daly & Terry Semel; Chairmen, Co-CEOs, Warner Bros.

Last year: 13 Ages: 58/52 Credits: The movies’ most respected and successful exec duo had 1995’s top film (Batman Forever) and hottest TV hits (ER and Friends); potential access to Turner distribution network. Debits: WB television network is no threat yet; rumors persist that Semel could bolt to MCA.

11. Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg & David Geffen; Partners, Dreamworks Skg

Last year: 4/9/10 Ages: 47/44/52 Credits: With their infallible reps and $100 million in seed money, they have access to billions in financing; powerful investors (Bill Gates, Paul Allen) rushed to join in. Debits: ABC deal could unravel once Eisner, Katzenberg’s foe, calls the shots; time to shut up and put up.

12. Tom Hanks, Actor

Last year: 16 Age: 39 Credits: With back-to-back Oscars, a reported $30 million-plus in Gump change, and much of the credit for Apollo 13‘s success, he has nothing to prove; so America’s most popular actor will direct That Thing You Do, a little movie about a ’60s rock band. Debits: No way he’ll win a third straight Best Actor trophy.

13. Ron Meyer; President, COO, MCA, Inc.

Last year: – Age: 50 Credits: CAA’s mighty No. 2 shocked the industry (and CAA cofounder Ovitz) when he took his formidable management skills to MCA to run the 15,000-employee conglomerate. Debits: Intends to spend big to wake up the sleeping MCA giant, but almost certainly overpaid exclient Stallone ($60 million for three pics).

14. Alain Levy & Michael Kuhn; Pres., CEO, Polygram/Pres., Polygram Filmed Entertainment

Last year: 28/- Ages: 48/46 Credits: With artists like Sheryl Crow, PolyGram is second only to Warner Stateside; stock’s quadrupled since ’89; Levy expanded by acquiring Island Entertainment and Motown Records. Debits: Film unit Gramercy has yet to compete with the majors.

15. Joe Roth; Chairman, Walt Disney Motion Picture Group

Last year: 34 Age: 47 Credits: After one year, he has delivered hits (While You Were Sleeping and Houseguest), top-price stars Gibson, Stone, Redford, and Pfeiffer, and high-profile events such as Pocahontas in New York City’s Central Park. Debits: If he can’t coexist with Ovitz (his ex-agent), he could bolt.

16. Jonathan L. Dolgen & Sherry Lansing; Chairman CEO, Viacom Ent. Group/Chairman, Motion Pictures, Paramount

Last year: 21 Ages: 50/51 Credits: Management stability, fiscal restraint, canny distribution, and several big hits (The Brady Bunch Movie, Congo). Debits: Their ’95 output lacked any Gump-size hits to neutralize flops (Virtuosity, I.Q.).

17. Robert A. Iger & Ted Harbert; Pres., COO, Cap. Cities ABC/Pres., ABC Ent.

Last year: 17 Ages: 44/40 Credits: Last season ABC won the ratings crown for the first time in 15 years; network will have even greater resources after becoming part of Disney. Debits: Cautious fall lineup is vulnerable against NBC’s hipper style; Ovitz’s planned arrival will knock them down a peg in the corporate hierarchy.

18. Don Ohlmeyer & Warren Littlefield; Pres., NBC West Coast/Pres., NBC Ent.

Last year: 24 Ages: 50/43 Credits: Guided by NBC prez and CEO Robert Wright, they pulled the network out of the Nielsen dumps with Seinfeld, ER, Friends, Mad About You, Frasier; sticking with Leno paid off. Debits: The O.J. fiasco; how many more lickings can SNL take?

19. Michael Fuchs; Chairman, CEO, Warner Music; Chairman, HBO

Last year: 35 Age: 49 Credits: His HBO and Warner Music had 1994 revenues of $5.4 billion—one third of the Time Warner empire. Debits: The flamboyant exec may have put the unwinnable gangsta rap “problem” behind him, but relations with company peers remain troubled; if merger goes through, HBO could be Turner’s baby.

20. Alan Levine & Mark Canton; Pres. CEO, Sony Pictures Ent./Chairman, Columbia Tristar Motion Picture Cos.

Last year: -/- Ages: 48/46 Credits: Forged hits (Legends of the Fall, Little Women); Ricki Lake became a star; F/X whiz Ken Ralston hired for Sony’s Imageworks. Debits: First Knight; Mary Reilly’s bad buzz; Canton blamed for rising star salaries after paying Jim Carrey $20 mil.

21. Oprah Winfrey; Talk-show queen

Last year: 8 Age: 41 Credits: In shifting her show to more positive topics (yawn), the only female entertainer in Forbes’ 1995 list of America’s 400 richest may have lost Nielsen points, but she still leads the daytime pack; has agreed to at least two more years of hosting after this season. Debits: Two words: Ricki Lake.

22. Peter Chernin & Bill Mechanic’ Chairman/President, COO, Fox Filmed Ent.

Last year: 29 Ages: 44/45 Credits: A solid summer with Die Hard With a Vengeance, A Walk in the Clouds, and Nine Months; Christmas’ Broken Arrow (with Travolta) sounds like a bull’s-eye. Debits: Morphin movie missed the craze, and who the hell greenlighted Bushwhacked?

23. Tom Freston & Judy McGrath; Chairman, CEO, MTV Networks/President, MTV

Last year: 15 Ages: 49/43 Credits: Launches of MTV Asia and MTV Mandarin continue global conquest; MTV still calls the tunes in the music biz and is gaining Hollywood clout (having spawned Alicia Silverstone). Debits: The flop of The Jon Stewart Show nixed syndication plans.

24. Robert Shaye; Chairman, CEO, New Line Cinema Corp.

Last year: 27 Age: 56 Credits: Scored with low-brow cash cows (Dumb and Dumber, Mortal Kombat) while attracting A-listers Brad Pitt (Seven) and Julia Roberts (The Women); independence under Turner should survive Time Warner merger. Debits: Can flop like the big boys (The Basketball Diaries); artsier Fine Line still weak.

25. John Matoian; President, Fox Entertainment Group

Last year: – Age: 46 Credits: In his first year at the helm, Fox overtook one of the Big Three (so what if it was only CBS?) in the key 18-49 demographic; backed up quality-programming pledge by renewing critics’ darling Party of Five. Debits: His prime-time schedule is scarred with ratings black holes.

26. Thomas D. Mottola; Pres., Coo, Sony Music Ent., Inc.

Last year: 20 Age: 45 Credits: While Warner Music quaked with turmoil, Sony rocked steady, with sales up 24 percent; wife Mariah Carey will likely assist with Christmas bonuses. Debits: Sony’s domestic market share is now third; rumored $30 mil to market Michael Jackson was seen as throwing good money after Bad.

27. Leslie Moonves; Pres., Cbs Ent., Exec. Vp, Cbs Brdcst. Grp.

Last year: 26 Age: 46 Credits: Since his June hiring, the former WB TV prez (who sired ER and Friends) has instilled new optimism at the beleaguered network; Westinghouse has to be a less penny-pinching owner than Laurence Tisch. Debits: Central Park West, Courthouse, New York News, Dweebs, Almost Perfect

28. Jack Rapke, Rick Nicita & Lee Gabler; Cochairmen, Creative Artists Agency

Last year: – Ages: 45/49/55 Credits: Following the exodus of Ovitz and Meyer, this troika has acted decisively to keep the preeminent talent agency intact. Debits: Do they have the Ovitz-like charisma to hold A-listers?

29. Jim Carrey; Actor

Last year: 67 Age: 33 Credits: Jumped from big hit ($120 million The Mask) to bigger hit ($127 million Dumb and Dumber), shattering the salary barrier for funnymen with the $20 million Cable Guy payday. Debits: His mugging’s beginning to grate; needs to find time for a serious role to prove he’s not just a one-note joker.

30. Clive Davis; Founder, President, Arista Records

Last year: 40 Age: 62 Credits: Fat five-year contract reportedly worth as much as $70 million and Arista’s best fiscal year ever (U.S. sales topping $300 million)—sparked by stock-in-trade pop, R&B, rap, and country—only burnish the Ear’s legend. Debits: Arista still lacks serious rock presence.

31. Tom Cruise; Actor-Producer

Last year: 22 Age: 33 Credits: Rolled over controversy and powered Interview With the Vampire to blockbuster status; got $15 million to star in Mission: Impossible—and he coproduced it; a sterling record and a Steinway smile. Debits: Mission‘s slated opening in summer ’96 keeps him out of the spotlight.

32. Jeffrey Berg & James Wiatt; Chmn., Ceo/Pres., Co-Chmn., Icm

Last year: 33/- Ages: 48/49 Credits: Madonna joined a stable that includes Schwarzenegger and Roberts; new Silicon Valley clients also signing on; archrival CAA now Ovitz-free, clearing way for an ICM surge. Debits: Four agents sneaked out to start own agency; megabucks scripter Joe Eszterhas made a far noisier exit.

33. Harvey & Bob Weinstein; Cochairmen, Miramax Films

Last year: 46 Ages: 43/40 Credits: Pulp Fiction became the rare indie that makes $100 million, while a heap of Oscar nods confirmed the studio’s creative clout; still fiercely independent despite Disney’s ownership. Debits: Kids controversy strains ties with Disney; following 1994’s gold mine, no breakout hits this year.

34. Frank Mancuso; Chairman And Ceo, Mgm

Last year: 65 Age: 62 Credits: With successful glorified B movies Stargate ($71 million) and Species ($60 million), the once-moribund lion is showing signs of life. Debits: Showgirls died of overexposure; despite promising upcoming product (the new Bond flick, Get Shorty), MGM remains the studio of last resort for most players.

35. Mel Gibson; Actor-Director-Producer

LAST YEAR 41 Age: 39 Credits: Among the world’s top box office draws with both men and women, he has produced eight films in four years and directed two, including the well-liked Braveheart; scored $20 million to star in Ron Howard’s Ransom. Debits: His perceived homophobia could cost Braveheart some Academy votes.

36. Clint Eastwood; Actor-Director-Producer

Last year: 37 Age: 65 Credits: The unpredictable maverick began as the star but also wound up producing and directing the hit weepie and likely Oscar contender The Bridges of Madison County, giving Meryl Streep one of the best roles of her career. Debits: He’s not interested in making movies right now.

37. Michael Crichton; Writer-Producer

Last year: 42 Age: 52 Credits: Responsible for TV’s hottest show (ER), the most successful movie in history (Jurassic Park), and a new novel, The Lost World, expected to sell 2 million hardcovers—twice as many as Disclosure; Congo proved he can open the lousiest of movies. Debits: A couple of bad reviews, if you want to get picky.

38. Aaron Spelling; TV Producer

Last year: 50 Age: 69 Credits: TV’s most powerful and prolific producer is developing daytime and prime-time soaps for NBC, an evening serial (Savannah) for WB, a vampire drama (The Kindred) for Fox. Debits: Must absorb the loss of Darren Star, creator of 90210 and Melrose Place; still capable of duds (Models Inc., Heaven Help Us).

39. Robert Zemeckis; Director

Last year: 32 Age: 44 Credits: With a mind-blowing $329 million domestic gross, Forrest Gump—which earned him and the picture six Oscars—became the third-biggest movie of all time; then it swamped the competition at the video store. Debits: He has yet to capitalize on post-Gump heat, remaining curiously mum about his next project.

40. Bill Gates; Chairman, Ceo, Microsoft

Last year: 100 Age: 39 Credits: Whipped the world into consumer frenzy with Windows 95; now the richest man in America is circling the entertainment industry, talking deals with NBC and making them with DreamWorks. Debits: Antitrust problems (resolved in Microsoft’s favor) have not deterred Justice Department scrutiny.

41. Michael Douglas; Actor-Producer

Last year: 44 Age: 51 Credits: An Oscar contender for his $15 million title role in The American President; his Constellation Films could score with 12 movies for Paramount (he’ll star in two, one with father Kirk). Debits: Now that he’s using his own company’s money, rather than a studio’s, he can’t afford another Shining Through.

42. James Cameron; Writer-Producer-Director

Last year: 36 Age: 41 Credits: Pervasive influence over the look and feel of movies—his F/X house, Digital Domain, had state-of-the-art fingerprints all over Interview With the Vampire and Apollo 13; next, The Abyss director submerges again for Titanic. DEBITS: His blockbusters are so pricey, profits can be limited even if they make money.

43. John Grisham; Writer

Last year: 38 Age: 40 Credits: He’ll get $6 million-plus for the film version of his latest No. 1 best-seller, The Rainmaker (a record first printing of 2.8 million), to be produced by Douglas’ Constellation Films. Debits: CBS’ low-rated John Grisham’s The Client (he serves as a producer and consultant) is no Michael Crichton’s ER.

44. Harrison Ford; Actor

Last year: 49 Age: 53 Credits: Though Sabrina will show whether he’s still got romantic appeal, Hollywood’s preeminent leading man rarely misses; wanted—and received—$20 million before agreeing to join Brad Pitt in Devil’s Own. Debits: By the time he gets to the promised fourth Indiana Jones, he’ll be old enough to play Indy’s father.

45. Tim Allen; Actor-Comedian-Author

Last year: 52 Age: 42 Credits: First entertainer to have a No. 1 TV show, movie, and book the same week; Home Improvement nails down big money in syndication and was tops with viewers for second straight year. Debits: Last year, staff forgets to submit your name for Emmy consideration; this year, it remembers, but the Academy doesn’t.

46. Arnold Schwarzenegger; Actor-Producer

Last year: 39 Age: 48 Credits: Action emperor, now filming Eraser, continues to keep small fries Van Damme and Seagal at bay; after boffo True Lies, tsk-tsking over Last Action Hero stopped; commands $15 million a movie and nobody blinks. Debits: The First Knight fiasco doesn’t bode well for a clanging-swords epic like his pet project, Crusades.

47. Mo Ostin & Lenny Waronker; Heads Of Dreamworks Skg Music

Last year: -/59 Ages: 68/53 Credits: Most beloved top-level duo in music biz have been given (along with Ostin’s son Michael) free reign to run start-up unit their way, with dreamy funding; loyal stars like R.E.M. could follow once their Warner contracts are up. Debits: Bottom-line cynics consider them too artist friendly.

48. Demi Moore; Actress-Producer

Last year: 69 Age: 32 Credits: The star of three $100 million movies became the highest-paid actress in Hollywood when she grabbed $12.5 million to show her stuff in Striptease. Debits: Mixed response to both New Line’s uneven comedy Now and Then (which she also produced) and her feminist take on The Scarlet Letter.

49. Jimmy Iovine & Ted Field; Heads Of Interscope Records

Last year: 51 Ages: 42/43 Credits: Time Warner was shocked to discover it was distributing offensive gangsta rap, but the divorce may ultimately benefit the label—corporate entities are lining up to get distribution rights to the indie’s astonishing market share. Debits: Cutting-edge acts don’t necessarily equal an enduring roster.

50. David Letterman; Late-Night Host, Head Of Worldwide Pants

Last year: 18 Age: 48 Credits: He’s still got sinew as CBS goes flabby (Late Show brings revenue to the network and occasionally draws more viewers than the prime-time schedule). Debits: His shtick is tired (losing director Hal Gurnee didn’t help); that dismal Oscars gig; CBS picked up only one of two Worldwide Pants sitcom pilots.