Tina Brown Bags the Max
It’s a bit of a secret. Tina Brown—the entertainment world’s new poster girl for multimedia synergy—almost never goes to the movies. She rarely watches TV. But Harvey Weinstein—collector of Oscars for producing such films as The English Patient and Good Will Hunting, among many others—loves her anyway. And he’d better. On July 8, the big, brash Queens-grown cochairman (with brother Bob) of Miramax Films and the tony Oxford-educated editor of The New Yorker threw their lots together and made a power-melding announcement that stunned everyone—well, everyone who knows or cares who these media titans are.
On paper their idea reads brilliantly. Weinstein’s Miramax, Brown, and third partner Ron Galotti (until this month the publisher of Vogue) are starting a company that will publish a glossy new monthly magazine. Its stories, they theorize, could in turn hatch lucrative book, TV, and movie projects for Miramax, and parent company Disney. Brown’s been cozy with Weinstein and Disney chair Michael Eisner for years (in October, The New Yorker hosted a conference on the future at the Disney Institute), but now these cultured capitalists have joined in a mixed marriage: Mainstream mass-marketing meets hip-lit sensibility. “We’re talking about creating a pipeline of great ideas,” says Weinstein, adding with typical bravado, “Hopefully it will revolutionize the industry.”
For the gold to flow, however, Weinstein, 46, and Brown, 44, must do the near impossible: create a magazine that is journalistically independent and a content provider for Disney’s massive entertainment empire. In the traditional media universe, magazines have generally existed in their own solar system. (When they do stray into excess synergy it sometimes spells trouble: CNN’s partnership with TIME—both, along with ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, are owned by Time Warner—resulted in the newsmag’s running the cable net’s now-retracted sarin gas/Laos story.) But Brown’s been itching to rocket out of her orbit for years. There were reports that she wanted to start a New Yorker imprint to publish article-generated books. That never happened, although there was cross-pollination with The New Yorker‘s then-sister company Random House, headed by Brown’s husband, Harry Evans. He benefited from her journalistic instincts, a la Jeffrey Toobin’s The Run of His Life; she ran many a Random House excerpt.
More recently, as Hollywood snapped up more and more magazine articles, including 17 of hers, Brown felt financially shut out. “I commissioned this piece by Michael Korda,” about Valley of the Dolls author Jacqueline Susann, says Brown. “The movie rights sold for $700,000.” Her cut? “Michael took me to lunch and said, ‘Thanks.'”
Amazingly, Korda’s nice piece of change evolved into a Universal feature with Bette Midler; magazine material, truth be told, rarely gets out of development hell (Saturday Night Fever and The Peacemaker being notable exceptions). Still, writers can pocket low-six-figure sums just for selling an option.