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MGM’s Leo the… Tiger?

September 24th, 2010 No comments

Is Leo the Lion Getting Outsourced to India?

Long-suffering film studio MGM has experienced another odd twist as it limps its way to a bankruptcy reorganization next month. Although its creditors have announced plans to place Spyglass Entertainment principals Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum in charge of the debt-riddent studio, it’s possible a new buyer has surfaced: Sahara India Pariwar, a Mumbai, India, conglomerate, is said to have begun exploratory talks with MGM, which carries a debt load of $3.7 billion, offering to purchase Metro Goldwyn Mayer for $2 billion dollars.

Even if the rumors are true, there are a number of hurdles to clear before MGM can become Bollywood-West. For starters, the studio has little to offer beyond its aging library and their interest in two and a half valuable film franchises: “The Hobbit,” (with New Line/Time Warner), the James Bond films (with EON Productions) and the ‘Pink Panther‘ franchise. Since no Pink Panther films are on the horizon, MGM’s real assets are its ‘Hobbit’ share and its distribution of the Bond movies; and both of those, it seems, are NOT playing ball with any takeover by Sahara India Pariwar. The start date of the “The Hobbit” films (there will be 2) has already leaked from series star Ian McKellan, who will reprise his role of Gandalf: the films are set to begin shooting in January in New Zealand. So it seems Time Warner has stepped up to ensure “The Hobbit” gets made. As for Bond, that’s a different story altogether.

After rumors began circulating that Sahara India Pariwar was looking at MGM, some media outlets reported that EON Productions (EON, by the way, is an acronym for “Everything or Nothing,” an inside joke by legendary late producer Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli) headed by Cubby’s daughter and son-in-law Barbara Broccoli and her husband Michael G. Wilson, was on board for a Mumbai takeover of MGM. In a hastily-arranged press release, EON declared it had NOT agreed to any takeover by Sahara India Pariwar; as a matter of fact, EON insisted they had not been in talks at all about the Bond franchise, whose 23rd film is on hold pending MGM’s debt resolution.

 Until someone is willing to go on the record, MGM’s potential ‘sale’ is just that: a mere possibility. In the meantime, industry vets (and obvious risk-takers) Birnbaum and Barber are poised to assume control of the hobbled studio once the bankruptcy court hands the company over to its creditors and they institute their reorganization plan. If the studio is pulled from their fingers at the last minute by a successful bid by Sahara India Pariwar, don’t feel too bad for Messrs. Birnbaum and Barber. They stand to make $4.5 million if the deal falls apart.

Frankly, it’s just the latest in a sad series of affairs for once-proud MGM, which has hemmorhaged cash for most of the last three decades. Perhaps an infusion of new blood will revive the ailing Leo the Lion, but in keeping with the pathetic nature of this Hollywood tale, MGM’s big cat is really an underdog…