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Also: Gaming out the Conan, Fallon, Leno, and Kimmel late-night musical chairs.
It's safe to assume that the Paramount executives clapped pretty loudly, though. May is supposedly when DreamWorks can start shopping for a new deal, and Paramount might not be ready to say goodbye to Steven Spielberg just yet.
Speculation about the fate of DreamWorks has gone on for quite some time, as the studio has used the press to lay the groundwork for a negotiation over its future. There have been a number of stories about the DreamWorks team's suffering under the supposedly heavy hand of Paramount; partner David Geffen even went on the record a few months back to tell Vanity Fair that the people running Paramount are "a nightmare."
That's why many observers expect Geffen and Spielberg and Stacy Snider to leave in the coming months. But the speculation about which studio will win over DreamWorks seems misplaced. To us, there seem to be only a couple of possibilities. Option A: DreamWorks raises a bunch of money and makes a deal with Universal to distribute its movies. Option B: DreamWorks raises a bunch of money and makes a deal with Paramount to distribute its movies. We lean toward A, though B probably makes more sense. That's because we tend to believe that animus trumps logic.
We checked in with a favorite DreamWorks observer to see if he agreed with us. He did, kind of. First, he said, everyone should be clear that what began as DreamWorks—David Geffen, Steven Spielberg, and Jeffrey Katzenberg—now is only about Spielberg.
Katzenberg is bound to DreamWorks Animation, which is obligated to remain with Paramount for quite some time. Geffen is negotiating his way out of the movie business. Yes, he'll want to make some noise as he settles the company's fate, but that should be simple enough. He'll just have to raise a mind-boggling sum to finance the DreamWorks slate. If Tom Cruise can raise $500 million, Geffen should be able to bring in about a trillion for a company with Spielberg's name on it.
So the question is: Where will Spielberg want to make his deal?
We lean toward Universal, because Spielberg has always been attached to the place—he's never left the lot notwithstanding the fact that his company belongs to Paramount. Of course, this isn't necessarily the most logical move. If he were to leave Paramount, he would hypothetically also leave behind many projects in development there. But that's what negotiations are for. The reasonable deal would be for Spielberg to take the projects he wants as long as Paramount can opt in as a partner when it wants.
Our DreamWorks watcher leans toward Option B, staying at Paramount. "There's still a lot of hope at Paramount that Spielberg's not leaving—at the highest levels," he says. And why shouldn't they hope? Paramount is looking at a great summer, but not because of movies that the current regime has developed. "They have Iron Man, which they didn't make; Indiana Jones, which they didn't make; Kung Fu Panda, which they didn't make; and Tropic Thunder, which they didn't make," says our observer. "They made Love Guru." (That's a dismissive reference to the upcoming Mike Myers comedy, which is being written off as DOA in Hollywood. In spite or because of that, the impossibly difficult Myers is said to be driving the folks at Paramount so crazy that some say—jokingly, we think—that the studio set the film to open in June against the presumably more commercial Get Smart as payback.)
And Paramount should have its attractions for the DreamWorks crew. At this point, our observer notes, Paramount is largely staffed with DreamWorks alumni, and they seem to be doing a bit better at marketing movies than their counterparts at Universal. "The question is, what does Steven get out of going back to Universal?" he asks. To him, the answer is: not much.
As for the idea that there's some bidding contest for DreamWorks involving a bunch of studios, that strikes our observer as foolish. The deal goes to Universal or Paramount. Surprise us, David. (link)
Kim Masters is an NPR correspondent and the author of The Keys to the Kingdom: The Rise of Michael Eisner and the Fall of Everyone Else.
Photograph of Ben Silverman by Scott Wintrow/Getty Images.Photograph of Steven Spielberg by Michael Nagle/Getty Images. Photograph of Robert De Niro by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival.