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Behind Geffen’s froth hides the real question about SKG

Lost in the myriad coverage of news that NBC Universal won’t pay
a billion dollars for DreamWorks is any discussion of how a triumvirate of arguably the most powerful Hollywood guys of their generation could have failed so utterly to build a successful conglomerate.

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Spielberg remains a director for hire. Katzenberg is the Spielberg of animation. And Geffen’s business acumen, when focused and present, is legendary.

And yet: Dreamworks’ reality has not matched it’s hopes. Just drive around Playa Vista You’ll find marsh grass – not the 350,000 sq. ft. of DreamWorks motion picture, television, interactive and music studios that were to anchor a million square feet of development.

Drive through Santa Monica, and you won’t find POP.com, the long-forgotten, abortive DreamWorks web venture that sucked down millions.

Stop by Nashville, Tennessee where you won’t find DreamWorks Records Nashville – it’s being shuttered this month by its parent company, Universal Music Group. Not that it much matters: Toby Keith has just left the label to launch his own company, Show Dog Records (so much for man’s best friend) leaving what was left of DreamWorks Nashville with a handful of wannabe acts.

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Of late, DreamWorks Television has been a wrecking yard of expensive, failed shows: “The Contender” bombed almost as quickly (though not as expensively) as “Father of the Pride” – making NBC Entertainment chief Kevin Reilly even more ashen-faced than usual.


And then there’s the live action studio. DreamWorks’ now-ex production chiefs Walter and Laurie Parkes let their propensity to cherry-pick (translation: rip from the hands of DreamWorks-based producers) any project they wanted was allowed to run unchecked for years. As a result, they engendered such goodwill within the industry that the only reason most producers would back their cars up if they saw them in the street would be to try and hit them harder. It’s hardly a lot where producers are eager to set up shop.

And let’s not get started on “The Island.” Michael Bay is so enervated by its underperformance, he cancelled a three-way with Playboy’s Miss October and his favorite Thai concubine. Even a potent sulfinate like Viagra can’t mitigate a $100 million write-off. (Although, as an amusing side-note, it does appear that the Catholic brothers in my high school were correct: It turns out that you will go blind from “doing it” too much.)

“The Island’s” failure may even threaten to deep-six DreamWorks’ “Transformers” – the 80s toy brand searching for a plot that Bay was supposed to make his follow up to “The Island”.

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At least, DreamWorks has no debt. But as Alan Greenspan will tell you, even as upto their eyeballs in debt as Americans are, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. To the contrary, a company with some debt is one that has made strategic acquisitions in businesses it couldn’t self-generate. That’s a sign of motivated and ambitious stewardship. And that’s something, General Electric can probably sense, that doesn’t seem to be particularly abundant at DreamWorks SKG.

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