Pressure Now on Shari Redstone

Sumner Redstone gained notoriety as both a taker and a deal-breaker (he once said he fired Tom Cruise). His daughter, Shari, seems to have inherited only part of his skills.

After 50 years: The Beverly Hills dinner was lavish. The mood among Hollywood power players was upbeat. Rumors of an impending stream of blockbusters from the Paramount studio fueled praise and optimism.

Until Barry Diller suddenly walked in. “Paramount’s management team will explode within weeks,” said Diller acerbically. “It will be a classic case of Hollywood turning success into failure.”

From the vantage point of 50 years, Diller’s prediction of unrest proved accurate for that moment—and now, too. As a movie studio, Paramount again flies into the land of oblivion. And Hollywood wonders if any creative entity can survive multiple episodes of turmoil.

Until this week, Paramount’s new corporate suitors ranged from David Ellison, 41, who envisioned a string of hits at the studio — which apparently has now been scrapped — to the embattled Edgar Bronfman Jr., 70, who 30 years ago it won control of Universal Pictures in a fierce battle.

Both men had to overcome the skepticism of their billionaire fathers. Ellison, the head of Skydance Media, can trace his heritage to technology – Larry Ellison runs Oracle. The Bronfman dynasty understood how to distill alcohol, but not entertainment. They were content with owning Seagram until the heirs started coming out in Hollywood.

Once Edgar Jr. walked me through the Universal lot and promised to turn its famous tower from black to white to reflect his optimism.

Instead, he quickly placed Universal under the control of a confused French conglomerate called Vivendi, his focus immediately shifting to Warner Music.

Meanwhile, the Paramount studio can now also aspire to a paint job as it endures its own bidding wars. Fearsome entities like Sony remain in the game, backed by funds like Apollo (Sony) and Bain Capital (after Bronfman).

RedBird, having supported Ellison, now watches him from the sidelines.

Sony, impatient with Paramount’s talks, has now bought the 35-theater Alamo Drafthouse chain, where it can serve booze as well as movies.

Paramount’s bid, if revived, could significantly embellish the estate of Shari Redstone, who controls the rickety structure created by her late father. His National Amusements built Paramount Global, which also owned CBS among other entities.

Looking long term, however, Paramount has been an uncertain friend to filmmakers looking for steady financing, not ink jobs. Long before Sumner, talented young directors provided the key to Paramount’s remarkable recovery during the 1960s and 1970s—one that studio executives have sought to emulate ever since.

By 1975, I propose Paramount (in production or money) incl Chinatown, The Godfather Part II, The Conversation, Nashville, The Day of the Locust, Parallax View, Murder on the Orient Express, The Gambler, The Great Gatsby AND The last tycoon among others. Some were hits, some flops, but all were ambitious in terms of talent and budget.

The success was historic and distant. The heralded hits, accompanied by a firestorm of publicity, exacerbated tensions between Paramount president Frank Yablans and Bob Evans, the production chief, who fought bitterly over both strategy and the sharing of the film’s profits.

Evans’ ambition to be both producer and studio head interfered in the decision-making, prompting the selection of Diller, the former Fox chief, to succeed both Paramount executives.

(On a personal level, as VP of production, I stayed out of the executive battles; my role was to put films together, greenlight at opportune moments, soon transitioning to a more relaxed environment.)

Diller, of course, ran Paramount with skill and determination before finding richer pastures as chairman of IAC and Expedia.

Fifty years later, the studio welcomes its next champion. Diller isn’t making any predictions — other than to warn that time is running out.

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