Cruise Control

What Everyone Is Talking About

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Sumner Redstone is on the attack. He may be 83, but that doesn't mean the Viacom chairman doesn't know how to play the game. After all, he was there when the rules were invented. So, he says to himself, what do you do with a very pricey, erratic, self-imploding star that once made you a lot of money but whose value seems to be diminishing with his every tabloid appearance and nonappearance of said star's newly birthed daughter? Take him out, but make sure everyone knows he's damaged goods so that when he's sitting on the curb, no one wants to pick him up.
Whose laughing now, Tom?
Whose laughing now, Tom? Credit: AP

So before you announce the split, you pick up the phone and call The Wall Street Journal -- not, please note, Variety, which is read by everyone in Hollywood, but the paper read by the people who have money to invest -- that Tom Cruise's behavior was not to be trusted by stalwart business types.

"As much as we like him personally, we thought it was wrong to renew his deal," Redstone told The Wall Street Journal in an interview posted online. "His recent conduct has not been acceptable to Paramount."

The initial head-scratching around Hollywood as to why Paramount would choose to end a 14-year relationship with Tom Cruise and his producing partner Paula Wagner with such acrimony and bad feeling is understandable. But once you consider the negotiations over a new contract had been taking place for weeks, it seems obvious that the two sides came to the discussions vastly far apart as to what the relationship was worth to Paramount.

Cruise's partner, Wagner, was quick to jump out on the defensive, by noting that the movies produced by Cruise/Wagner, such as the "Mission: Impossible" franchise, "Vanilla Sky" and "War of the Worlds," accounted for 15% of Paramount's theatrical revenue in the last 10 years and 32% for the past six years.

But then again, Cruise and Wagner's unit was also behind disappointments "Elizabethtown," "Ask the Dust" and "Suspect Zero." "MI3" may have earned $393 million, but that was less than what was expected.

If Cruise and Co. decided they needed some leverage to get Paramount to sweeten its offer, and decided to intimate that they were in discussions with certain hedge funds to set up an independent production company, it would explain why The Wall Street Journal got the scoop over Variety. Redstone, it would seem, decided to call that bluff, if it was indeed made, by disparaging the actor's reputation -- now known for couch-jumping and unusual family relationships and strange religious beliefs as much as for his box-office prowess -- with the community that Cruise would next be reaching out to.

Point goes to Redstone. Your move, Cruise.
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