Sumner Redstone, Trendsetter?

Two years ago, I spent several days in China with Sumner Redstone, when we were both speaking at something called “The Golden Eagle Film and Television Festival.”

Now the truth is, the vaunted media mogul probably wouldn’t know who I was if he ran over me with his car on his way into the Paramount parking lot. (More on this in a moment.)

But in the entomology of Hollywood, this shared experience – this breathing of the same deeply polluted air in a city you’ve never heard of – now qualifies us as dear old friends.

So I post this not to bury Sumner for his remarks about Tom Cruise (I’ll leave that to Scientology, Bert Fields and Nikki Finke,) but to make a friendly observation.

As anyone who’s ever worked in Hollywood will tell you, the basic social contract (“Local Law #1”) is that nobody ever tells the truth, about anything.

Every script is brilliant; every film is going to be a blockbuster; every actor’s performance is inspired.

And when they’re not – and that malodorous whiff of canine is in the air – the minimum social requirement for survival is that you smile broadly, clap the victim on the back, and exclaim loudly “Congratulations! You’ve done it again!”

At least this was the way it was until yesterday, when my dear old pal Sumner broke not only Cruise’s production deal, but the basic social contract by stating Tom had "committed creative suicide," and that "his recent conduct has not been acceptable” to Paramount.

So what’s my point here?

Well, if there’s one other thing I know about Hollywood, it’s that as sure as one studio has a hit with a comic book, or a 60’s TV show – or as soon as one group of executives goes white water rafting, or an executive buys a Prius, or a even home in Idaho – the others will surely follow.

So after decades of polite lies, I can’t help but wonder if my friend Sumner is going to start a trend here.

Consider the following:

Oldspeak, Variety: “Stellar pictures unfurls production slate.”

Newspeak: “Wishful thinking: Six Paragraphs of hype, hope, and fictional deal making to follow.”

Oldspeak: “She was suffering from exhaustion.”

Newspeak: “She’s a drug-addled maniac.”

Oldspeak: “He left the project because of creative differences.”

Newspeak: “He demanded final cut, his ego was out of control, and he refused to meet the budget.”

Oldspeak: “He decided that in order to best serve his clients, he’s leaving the agency to set up a management company.”

Newspeak: “He was charging hookers and private jets to Vegas to the agency, so we booted him.”

Oldspeak: “He’s leaving the studio to pursue his original dream, which was making movies.”

Newspeak: “He couldn’t pick a winner if Steven Spielberg himself came in and pitched Jaws. So we threw his ass out of here.”

Oldspeak: “We love the pitch, but we have something just like it in development.”

Newspeak: “You're an overpriced hack.”

Oldspeak: “You were terrific in the audition, but they decided to go in a different direction.”

Newspeak: “You have no talent. But in the meantime, I’ll have the swordfish, grilled, no butter, with a small salad, and the dressing on the side.”

Oldspeak: “They loved your take, but they’ve decided to go with somebody else.”

Newspeak: “You’re 57, you haven’t directed a hit film in ten years, and there’s an MTV director they can control who offered to do it for half the price. And by the way, they also said you’re an overpriced hack who’s got no talent.”

Oldspeak: “I respect my competitors.”

Newspeak: “You know that sound - that 'thud-thud' you hear when you drive over the speed bumps in the studio parking lot? Well, every morning, when I hit them, I dream that it's Tom Rothman."

And finally, with the Emmy’s upon us:

Oldspeak: "It was an honor to be nominated."

Newspeak: "Only a bunch of out-of-touch star-struck jackasses could nominate someone who is on the screen for less than a minute. I'm pissed, I'm furious, and the network is going to pay for not taking out more full-page “For your consideration” ads it when it's contract renegotiation time."

Of course, there is one last point to be made here:

If there’s one other irrefutable law of Hollywood, it’s that sooner or later, everything old is new again. It’s all cyclical. Sit-coms will return; development deals will eventually be refunded; sooner or later, we’ll stop making movies with Roman numerals in the titles.

In fact, even my friend Redstone’s remarks are nothing but a throwback to the age of Sam Goldwyn. He too, told the truth, when he said of a writer:

“Get that bastard off the lot, now! I never want to see him again, until we need him!”


More by Bruce Feirstein:
From China, a view on the Times
Sumner Redstone, Trendsetter?
I'll have a Gibson, straight up
Previous Native Intelligence story: The Big Valley

Next Native Intelligence story: Surf's up

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