A Bigger, Badder CBS … Tom Green Escapes New York

Wednesday, Sept. 8

When rumors started seeping out that CBS’s Mel Karmazin and Viacom’s Sumner Redstone were discussing a merger on the eve of Labor Day weekend, other players in the media world were awestruck.

“It makes perfect sense,” said the chief executive of another major media conglomerate days before the merger was announced. “Between the cable channel fit, vertical integration play, duopoly play, you’d have to hand it to both of them.”

Well, hand it to them. At $35 billion, the Viacom-CBS merger is the biggest media merger ever. It dwarfs the Walt Disney Company’s 1996, $19 billion play for ABC.

The name of the merged company is Viacom Inc. The TV network will still go by the name CBS.

Under the deal, Sumner Redstone, 76, remains chief executive of Viacom, which will simply absorb the CBS Corporation. Mel Karmazin, 56, will become chief operating officer and will run the company day to day. So Mr. Redstone gets a successor, and Mr. Karmazin gets to run a much bigger company.

Together, the reach of the two companies now becomes breathtaking. Viacom brings with it Showtime, MTV, VH1, Paramount’s theme parks and television and movie production units, Nickelodeon, Spelling Entertainment, Simon & Schuster, Blockbuster Video and a large stake in the UPN network. CBS brings its No. 1-rated TV network, a country music channel, King World TV, 160 Westinghouse radio stations, one of the country’s largest billboard companies and numerous Internet acquisitions like Jobs.com and Switchboard.com.

Put it all together and it’s worth $80 billion. Mr. Redstone wasn’t kidding when he called the new Viacom “a global giant.”

Think of the possibilities: The MTV Video Music Awards on CBS, which has the largest household distribution of all the networks; radio and billboard plugs in every major market for Showtime–constantly trailing HBO–and the latest Paramount movies; ads sold in big-bucks packages for all of the television and radio outlets; time for CBS to switch from cartoons to sports on a rainy Saturday? Send the tykes over to Nickelodeon with a couple of well-placed promos; possible dual programming between CBS and UPN stations in major cities around the country.

The Federal Communications Commission’s strict regulations could force the new Viacom to dump some of its local stations; right now, the F.C.C. limits any single company from having broadcast television coverage in more than 35 percent of the country (with CBS and UPN, Viacom has about 44 percent). As of press time, Mr. Redstone and Mr. Karmazin planned to go to Washington, D.C., the day after their announcement to lobby F.C.C. commissioners on this very issue.

CBS Corporation president Les Moonves was smiling broadly at the St. Regis Hotel merger press conference on Sept. 7. He’s constantly getting beaten up because CBS has the oldest viewers of all the networks. That can’t happen anymore. As part of Viacom, the CBS Corporation can claim to reach little kids, hip teens and 20-somethings. “We get them from the time they’re 2 to the time they’re 80,” he said. “We’re going to get them from Nickelodeon to MTV to Diagnosis Murder .”

If Mr. Moonves sounded proprietary, it appears he has a right to. With the departure of Viacom deputies Tom Dooley and Philippe Dauman, it is believed that Mr. Karmazin’s people–and Mr. Moonves is tops among them–will be running the show.

In the music cable world, Viacom now reaches the brain-addled MTV viewers, their parents who watch VH1 and their cousins in the heartland who watch the country music channels. That’s about as broad as it gets–broader than Disney.

In fact, on paper, Viacom now looks a lot like Disney–theme parks, TV, TV production, movies and cable. Disney was considered to have overextended itself with all of these different businesses and in recent months Disney chief executive Michael Eisner has been dumping assets. But CBS insiders said this company will run differently. All of the separate entities will for the most part remain separate–no forced integrations here, save some back-office consolidations when appropriate. And no sloppy production studio-network programming integrations like over at ABC, Mr. Moonves said, taking a dig at a network rival. He said he does expect first dibs on Paramount projects.

Mr. Redstone said the deal started taking form in late August, when Mr. Karmazin approached him about making some TV station deals under new, loosened F.C.C. station ownership restrictions that allow one company to own two stations in a given market. Within 12 days, he said, the deal was done.

Now media insiders are waiting to see what Barry Diller, Mr. Eisner and the General Electric Company’s NBC do. More big deals could be down the pike.

The Viacom-CBS merger also gives David Letterman m ore pinheads to complain about. See him tonight, with Ricki Lake and Kid Rock. [WCBS, 2, 11:35 P.M.]

Thursday, Sept. 9

Tom Green will pull up stakes and move his MTV show from New York to Los Angeles, probably in the near future, NYTV has learned. That comes as not much of a surprise. As we reported earlier this summer, Mr. Green’s been having his problems in New York. People on the street either recognize him or react very mildly to his shenanigans. That’s no good for a performer whose main shtick is shocking pedestrians with his outrageousness. Meanwhile, sources close to Mr. Green said it has even gotten to the point where he can’t walk out of his Manhattan apartment to go to the store without being besieged by people either asking him for autographs or trying to clown around with him.

So Mr. Green and his producers at MTV have decided it would make more sense for him and The Tom Green Show to move out to Los Angeles. First of all, since it’s a driving town, he’ll get a little more privacy. And there are more out-of-the-way places in California where he can pull his pranks on unsuspecting townspeople, the theory goes. And the people may be dumber out there, as anyone who has seen Jay Leno’s interview segments with regular Californians knows.

Tonight on MTV, see the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards . [MTV, 20, 8 P.M.]

Friday, Sept. 10

James Cameron, who’s working up a midseason Fox show about a super-cyberchick is now developing a TV miniseries about space travel to Mars. NYTV found out about this on Lou Dobb’s Web site, Space.com.

Mr. Cameron revealed his plans at a symposium for Mars freaks in Colorado. He told the gathering the miniseries will be based on a love story, but it won’t be like Titanic . “The passion that I want the audience to understand is the force that drives smart, sane people out into the void for years at a time, risking their health, maybe even their lives, on a quest which is at once scientific and spiritual,” he said.

Mr. Cameron won’t be the first to write a script about a trip to Mars. Take tonight’s movie on Channel 9, Escape From Mars , about a mission to make the red planet inhabitable for man gone horribly wrong. [WWOR, 9, 8 P.M.]

Saturday, Sept. 11

Howard Stern must be just burning to make it big in television–even though his two current shows, both simply film of him doing his radio show, are hanging in there. NYTV hears he’s been shopping an animated project around Hollywood and has talked to a bunch of the networks. His representative, Don Buchwald, declined to talk about it, but you can bet it won’t end up on PBS or the Disney Channel. Tonight, Mr. Stern’s syndicated The Howard Stern Radio Show goes up against Saturday Night Live repeat and Mad TV . [WCBS, 2, 11:30 P.M.]

Sunday, Sept. 12

The 51st Annual Emmy Awards . Your joke here. [WNYW, 5, 8 P.M.]

Monday, Sept. 13

Vance DeGeneres has inked a new contract with The Daily Show With Jon Stewart , where he’ll continue to do those spoofy news magazine bits for at least another year.

That’s a good thing, because he’s damn funny. Not too many people know this–even though it should be obvious–but Mr. DeGeneres, 44, is Ellen DeGeneres’ older brother. He said they got their senses of humor from their father, a jolly insurance salesman.

“Our Dad, he’s a funny guy,” Mr. DeGeneres said. “He could have been a writer for Bob Hope or something like that. He’s very corny, but he’s also very quick.”

Mr. DeGeneres was a comedian before his sister was. She followed him into the business a few years after he started doing stand-up. When he went into rock ‘n’ roll–in between writing stints for television, starting off at NBC’s Eerie, Indiana –her comedy career started taking off and he eventually went to write for her ABC sitcom. After that, he wrote for a bunch of other shows, most of which made the network schedules save Diagnosis Murder .

Mr. DeGeneres said he’s found his niche with The Daily Show and probably won’t go write for his sister’s new show, which will be a Larry Sanders Show -esque sitcom based on a Carol Burnett-style variety show.

So that’s why Mr. DeGeneres did a long, drawn-out segment on a cat in a tree for a Daily Show , “Tales of Survival” bit. It was as funny as anything that’s been on all year, with re-enactments and dead-on spoofing.

While he’s excited for another year on his job, Mr. DeGeneres said it is getting harder. Like Tom Green, Mr. DeGeneres kind of counts on people to take him seriously when he’s interviewing them. But now people are recognizing him and trying to be funny during their interviews, which can ruin the gag. “When you’re on cable and nobody’s watching you at first, it makes it very easy to do just about anything,” he said. “The more well known you become, the tougher it gets.” [Comedy Central, 45, 11 P.M.]

Tuesday, Sept. 14

They must be crazy, but the executives at Channel 11 are bumping their Seinfeld reruns from 11 P.M. to 7:30 P.M. The idea is to have a strong lead-in for the WB’s prime-time lineup, but please! Starting next week, in Seinfeld ‘s place, will be Friends , followed by that damned Frasier . Write your Congressman. Tonight on late-night Seinfeld , Kramer falls for Jerry’s girl. [WPIX, 11, 11 P.M.]

Peter Bogdanovich’s Movie of the Week

As nearly everyone seems to know, Humphrey Bogart became a romantic star and leading man with the success of Casablanca (1942), in the role first offered to, and rejected by, George Raft, at that moment still a bigger star than Bogart on the Warner Brothers lot. What fewer people perhaps remember is that Bogart had already become an A-list star with the triumph two years earlier of another movie role that George Raft also turned down first: the over-the-hill modern outlaw Roy Earle in Raoul Walsh’s memorable 1941 gangster tragedy scripted by John Huston and W.R. Burnett, High Sierra [Sunday, Sept. 12, Turner Classic Movies, 82, 10 A.M.; also on videocassette] . Among vigorous pioneer Walsh’s most representative and affecting films, it features transfixing, transcendent performances by Bogart and Ida Lupino, who got top billing.

When I first saw High Sierra , at age 13, I liked it a lot; in my new index-card file of movies I’d seen, I noted: “Very well acted and directed fugitive-on-the-run melodrama; fast and exciting.” Nine years later, I saw the film again and added to my card an “exceptional” rating plus: “The last in the 1930’s-style Warner gangster films, with Bogart in the role of a disillusioned, aging gangster the world has passed by. Beautiful in its classic simplicity and epic conception, brilliantly played, superbly directed.” In the next three years, I saw High Sierra twice more, adding: “Certainly one of Walsh’s masterpieces, a deeply moving tragedy; Bogart’s performance of the doomed man is a masterpiece in itself. Among the great American films.”

Revisiting the picture over the years, I have been struck by its disturbing subversiveness: Virtually everyone but Bogart’s and Lupino’s characters are betrayers, cowards or phonies of one kind or another. While the media calls him “Mad Dog Earle,” he is in fact the most sensitive person in the movie besides Lupino, who loves him though she knows he doesn’t really love her that much. He’s stuck on a young crippled girl (Joan Leslie), pays for the operation that cures her, then finds she’s not remotely interested in him romantically. Lupino’s character is there for him through it all, and the actress is responsible for the film’s most deeply moving, final scene.

Apart from the writing and direction, which make Earle a classic outsider in the mesh of a self-constructed trap, headed for annihilation, there is Bogart: one of the previous few American actors who could play a thinking man. Along those lines, Orson Welles used to joke that it was tough to find an American star “who looked like he’d ever read a book.” Bogart did; which is why he often later on played reporters, writers and directors–people who, ostensibly, read. This particular quality of the actor’s, combined with the chemistry of the other components to High Sierra, create a disturbing frisson: Bogart as the self-aware tragic outlaw hero of mythic stature, like the part-legendary martyrs of Irish folk songs or, for that matter, of Westerns. Indeed, Walsh himself remade High Sierra as a very effective Western eight years later with Joel McCrea and Virginia Mayo, called Colorado Territory .

An inevitable glorification occurs through the way the story is laid out and how Walsh tells it, as well as through the persona of Bogart encouraged to let his poetic side emerge in a tough-guy role. Walsh had an uncanny ability to bring out the sensitive and vulnerable aspects of even the most macho characters, and his achievement with Bogart–although he played older in High Sierra –set the tone for the rest of the actor’s career, laying the first defining foundation of a star personality that would have wide-ranging reverberations for the next decade and a half before Bogie’s early death at 57. And far beyond: His being chosen by the recent American Film Institute vote as the most important star of the 20th century begins here. High Sierra is essential Bogart; and Walsh.