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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…

No, Mr. Bond… I expect you to LIVE!

April 20th, 2010 No comments

Auric Goldfinger couldn’t do it…

Ernst Stravro Blofeld failed a bunch of times… Rosa Klebb… Even the nefarious agents of SMERSH and SPECTRE never got it together.

But it looks like MGM’s money woes have done something James Bond’s storied villains could only dream of: stop him in his tracks. Who knows? Maybe they’ve killed him altogether. But I seriously doubt it. You see, this ‘corpse’ is STILL worth a lot of money.

To understand the Bond franchise is to comprehend a family money-making machine so powerful it is practically the last  feather (to strain a metaphor) in the cap atop MGM’s Leo the Lion’s fleabitten brow… “Bond 23,” the latest planned Bond picture, is tightly controlled – as most have been – by original producer’s Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli’s daughter Barbara and her stepbrother Michael Wilson; they control the family business, the billion-dollar Bond franchise, since ‘Cubby’ Broccoli’s death in 1996. The next film was set to be scripted by Peter Morgan, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade; Purvis and Wade were the scriptwriters who rebooted the franchise with “Casino Royale” in 2006, and the recent “Quantum of Solace.” But the Bond franchise would be about the only other franchise the aging lion has to offer in a sale. Sure, they have the “Pink Panther” series, but the two best cards MGM/UA still holds in the interests of a possible sale are its rights in the Bond franchise and two planned “Hobbit” films, all of which are potentially hamstrung by MGM’s never-ending sale process. Although it’s unlikely the “Hobbit” powers that be, namely Peter Jackson and New Line Pictures (New Line was recently re-absorbed by Time/Warner), won’t let that happen, either.

But never count-out a British secret agent – or a wily hobbit. In the end, although it will certainly mean the end of the MGM imprimatur, the ailing for-sale studio will probably auction off its last valuable properties, leaving it only with a ‘famous’ logo and a popular (if aging) film library.