Winter Clearance! Jailed Celebrities,’Nam Reruns, Disney

It’s too late to complain about winter, too early to ridicule the annual deluge of Hamptons real-estate articles (which should begin to appear any second now), and-alas-nobody has bought my idea for the ultimate reality-TV series: America’s Most Wanted Idol , a.k.a. Survivor, the Celebrity Cell Block Edition , starring MichaelJackson,MarthaStewart,James Brown, Diana Ross, Courtney Love, Dennis Kozlowski, Phil Ramone and Robert Blake-with Peter Bacanovic as their in-house investment adviser.

And more to the point, not a single network executive has had the vision to recognize the possibilities for endless spin-offs here: Celebrity Prison Break , Celebrity Parole Board , This Old Big House , Who Wants to Marry an Incarcerated Billionaire? , Beverly Hills Community Service and Donald Trump: Give an Ex-Con a Job .

Oh, well. Maybe it’s time to take our annual peak in the New Yorker’s Diary mailbox.

Dear Diarist:

As a small investor looking to put some of my retirement funds into the stock market, I hope you can explain the benefits of Comcast’s proposed acquisition of Disney.

D. Grasso

Smoking a Cigar,

Somewhere in Manhattan

Dear Dick:

Let me pretend to be a top Merrill Lynch analyst here: It’s brilliant! It’s genius! It’s a win-win! It’s buy-buy-buy-buy! Because what we’re talking about here is synergy !

Just look at the incredible benefits Viacom reaped for CBS by having MTV produce the Super Bowl half-time show … oh, never mind. I just caught Mel Karmazin’s Congressional testimony on C-Span. Let’s try again:

It’s fantastic! Consider the incredible benefits Disney has derived from buying ABC. Just look at the way the merged entity has triumphed in the ratings, and-

Ummm, well …. Maybe that’s not the best example. Try this:

The Vivendi Universal sale ….

Scratch that. How about:

If we’re talking about enhancing shareholder value, you can’t do better than AOL–Time Warner …

O.K. Forget it. The truth? Almost none of these mega-mergers has made a lick of sense-let alone a dime-for any of the parties involved. The Comcast deal is about spending $54 billion to get rid of Michael Eisner. My advice? Buy ImClone. And put in a sell order at 60 bucks.

Dear Diarist:

Do you really, really, really think John Kerry can beat George W. Bush? Do you think it’s still too late for Al Gore to endorse him?

H. Dean

Beside Himself

Somewhere in America

Dear Dr. D:

For me, along with Lawrence O’Donnell, the political analyst on MSNBC (brought to you by General Electric’s NBC Universal division), the really curious thing about the election so far isn’t whether Kerry can beat Bush, but the fact that-in 2004-we’re fighting the Vietnam War all over again, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, on cable TV.

And, once again, nobody in America is winning.

The 50.5 million Americans who voted for Bush in 2000 obviously didn’t-and still don’t-care about his military records (or lack thereof). And the current Republican sleaze campaign-attempting to tar Kerry by invoking “Hanoi” Jane Fonda-is particularly ill-conceived. Especially since Jane Fonda’s biggest hits- The China Syndrome , 9 to 5 , On Golden Pond and her million-selling exercise tapes-were all released almost a decade after she went to Vietnam. (Translation, for Karl Rove: The vast majority of the public didn’t care about Jane Fonda’s politics by 1980, and certainly doesn’t care now, save, perhaps, for an obsessed minority who have right-wing talk-radio shows-and your office-on their speed dial.)

Obviously, a Kerry/Bush race is going to be close. And, at this moment, it remains to be seen how the current “intern” rumor plays out-although either way, it’s too late to help Gen. Wesley Clark, who tried to smear Kerry several weeks ago by warning reporters that the Kerry campaign would “implode” over an intern problem.

Speaking of which: If you run into the good general, please tell him that Blockbuster Video (a division of Viacom) called, and his VHS rental of Girls Gone Wild: The Democratic Party Edition is three weeks overdue.

Dear Diarist:

So what’s the story with Cold Mountain not getting a Best Picture nomination? Was Harvey Weinstein right-is this some kind of conspiracy, a payback for shooting the American Civil War movie in Romania? Or does it have something to do with Peter Biskind’s book, Down and Dirty Pictures , wherein he likens Harvey’s behavior to Nixon’s and Mussolini’s?

B. Weinstein

Standing in Shadows of Love

Tribeca

Dear Bob:

Even as we speak, billions of avocados are about to be sacrificed to the gods of the buffet tables here in L.A. at Oscar season. No matter where the chips may fall, it’s guacamole time at the Four Seasons Hotel.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years out here, it’s that nobody ever tells the truth about anything. Nobody tells a director they hated her film, nobody tells an actor he’s not going to make it, nobody told George Lucas that lots of people thought Jar Jar Binks was racist.

I suspect everyone around Harvey was telling him that Cold Mountain was a work of genius, rather than admitting it was a fine film, but not necessarily one of the years’ five best-which is precisely what Academy members were saying in L.A. Was there an ax to grind about foreign production? I think not.

And so far as the Biskind book goes, yes, everyone out here read it (starting, of course, with the index), but there was nothing in the book about Harvey that was particularly shocking or earth-shattering, or even new.

Hollywood has always loved-and forgiven-the most outlandish, outrageous behavior, so long as the perpetrator makes money or (these days) makes movies at all.

Harvey Weinstein is the modern P.T. Barnum; his forebears are Louis B. Mayer, Sam Goldwyn, David Selznick and Irving Thalberg. Showmen, in a word; larger-than-life characters who, if they didn’t already exist, would probably have to be invented by Hollywood .

And so far as the impact of Biskind’s book goes-and the stories about people who don’t want to work with Harvey-let me put it this way:

I’m willing to bet that if Harvey Weinstein had collected a dollar for every script and every deal he’s been offered since the Biskind book was published, forget about Comcast-Miramax itself would be able to buy Disney.

In the meantime, the guacamole beckons.