Thursday, February 16, 2012

"The Biggest Scandal In Show Business"

The biggest scandal in show business is not the most recent celebrity exiting a vehicle, minus what is generally considered to be an essential item of clothing. That’s not even a scandal. That’s a photo-op.

When you hear what it is, you will likely say, “That doesn’t hold a candle to the other thing”, but nonetheless, the biggest scandal in show business, light years beyond all the others, is

Creative bookkeeping.


Okay, but also not “snore”, because it has victimized virtually everyone in the entertainment business, and even if you don’t care about them because they’re rich, it’s still stealing.

“They’re rich” is exactly the argument that was once offered on 60 Minutes by Sid Sheinberg, at the time, one rung down from the “Top Guy” at Universal Studios, during a segment about actor James Garner suing Universal Studios for breach of contract:

“He makes a terrific salary already”, proclaimed Sheinberg.

Like that’s a justification for “Breach of Contract.” Overlooking how astronomically much more the studio breaching the contract makes, and – throwing it in to be nasty – how much Sid Sheinberg makes and how he’d react if his contract were breached.

Being even nastier, in contrast to the incredibly appealing and therefore almost immeasurably valuable James Garner, would anybody tune in to anything to watch Sid Sheinberg? Unless it's a segment of 60 Minutes, where they can enjoy seeing Sid justify “Breach of Contract” by saying “He makes a terrific salary already” with a straight face?

Notice, before we move on, that it’s always the “Second in Command” who’s assigned the dirty work. The “Second in Command” is the Vice Principal job of any operation. That’s the hatchet man. The “Top Guy”, in this case, Lew Wasserman, remains above the fray, smiling beneficently, and contributing to charity. Still, you can be sure of this:

Mr. Sid don’t go after James Garner less’n dat nice Mr. Lew tells him to.

If you’re detecting less than my usual bonhomie concerning these matters, chalk it up to “I’ve been there, folks.” Major Dad was made at Universal. True, the studio went into “deficit” producing the series – “deficit” meaning the episodes cost more than the amount the network contracted to pay for them, requiring Universal to make up the difference, in hopes of profiting down the line after the series is sold to syndication. The thing is, the studio itself was one of the main reasons the show’s budget was so high.

Under the heading of “Expenses”, Universal charges a non-negotiable fee for the use of its facilities and services, including a “per episode” fee for the services, or the availability at least, of a fire station, situated on the studio lot.

I cannot claim to have ever sat down with the budget and studied all the charges the studio applied against Major Dad. But one of the reasons I didn’t is that, when I noticed the charges assigned on a weekly basis for the Universal fire department, I gave up, chuckling ruefully and shaking my head.

I prefer my comedy in scripts, rather than in budget statements.

Later, when Major Dad became available for syndication, a point at which various entities could bid on the 96-episode package, Universal decided to accept the offer of the USA Network.

The USA Network is a subsidiary of Universal Studios.

“What’s that smell?”

Sorry. But still. Can you imagine how intense the bargaining process must have been, a business entity, “going to the mat” against its own parent company?

“How about this amount?”


Universal Studios sold Major Dad to itself.

As part of my deal, I was contractually entitled to receive money when Major Dad went into profit. Unfortunately, every year – now, closing in on twenty – I get a financial statement, informing me that the series remains “in the red.”

The fire station got its money up front. I’m still waiting.

Ah, well, I really shouldn’t complain.

I made a terrific salary already.


Zaraya said...

Dear Mr. Pomerantz; Universal would have been able to pay you more if not for those darn pirates!


Anonymous said...

Well Hollywood made "no profit" on Return of the Jedi and Harry Potter. How could you expect them to make money on a successful TV series? It's a wonder they are not all bankrupt.


Johnny Walker said...

Bob Shaye famously complained that Peter Jackson had already received millions of dollars when the director sued New Line for withholding money from Lord of the Rings.

It is absurd that it continues. If Hollywood made the losses they claimed they did, surely they'd do something else.

canda said...

I worked on a show where the studio charged $1000 for a bucket of sand placed outside the door, which was labeled ashtray.

No doubt Universal charged you 40& on the sale to itself for its syndication sales fee. And then charged their expenses on top of that while selling themselves. They probably took the USA people to dinner, and also charged you for part of their sales costs at the NAPTE convention, where they sold other shows under the Universal banner.