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There's a New Geraldo...Sort of : Rivera' still a TV outlaw, but he's moving into new corporate, personal and professional worlds

March 05, 1989|DENNIS McDOUGAL

It's 6:30 p.m. on Santa Monica Boulevard and some clown in a yellow Porsche has just cut off the most famous Puerto Rican Jew in America.

Geraldo Rivera cursed mildly. He hit the brakes and swerved his rented Lincoln.

There was a time not long ago when he admits he might have chased the Porsche down, jumped out and confronted the driver. But this evening, he avoids confrontation. Strange, considering his now-famous program that ended up with a neo-Nazi brawl and Rivera sporting a broken nose from a thrown chair.

After the close call with the Porsche, he turns to reassure his 10-year-old son in the back seat. "It's all right. It's OK," he called over his right shoulder to Gabriel.

It's the "new Geraldo," according to his executive producer and long-time friend Marty Berman. He is a changed man: monogamous and moderate.

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Though he still portrays himself as a romantic rebel, the crusading storefront lawyer-turned-journalist of the '70s sounds suspiciously like a yuppified capitalist these days. With the announcement last month that he and four partners (including Cheech Marin of Cheech & Chong comedy fame) would be buying up TV stations, Rivera discovered the wonderful world of corporate power.

The way he described it, his flight into Los Angeles three weeks ago on broadcast magnate George Gillett's private Challenger jet was as intoxicating as Rivera's favorite before-dinner drink, Tanqueray and tonic. If Gillett was trying to woo Rivera and his partners in the newly formed Maravilla (English translation: Marvelous) Communications to buy one of his stations, he was doing a splendid job.

"I'll never forget, sitting in the back of George Gillett's private jet, flying into Burbank, talking deals to Cheech (in Malibu) on the phone," said Rivera. "It was just such a trip!"

Big bucks is nothing new to Rivera. When he was fired from ABC-TV 3 1/2 years ago at the top of his game, he was reportedly pulling about $800,000 a year. He had a pricey apartment on West 64th Street in Manhattan, a Malibu beach house, a yacht, Cadillac, Jaguar.

The only thing he didn't have to divvy up in his 1984 divorce from Sheri Rivera, his third wife, was the Jaguar. (He still keeps the classic 1954 beauty garaged here so that he can tool around the freeways on his three or four visits a year from his New York home.)

In the past, his investment interests have been show-business garden variety: stocks, bonds, his own production companies, insurance policies and, for the sake of speculation, a few gas, oil and shopping center partnerships.

But with the success of "Geraldo," all that has changed.

First, Rivera developed his Investigative News Group production company. In conjunction with Tribune Broadcasting, which underwrote his talk show and his hugely successful syndicated specials, ING will undertake a new weekly TV magazine later this year entitled "The Investigators." Like his non-network talk show, "The Investigators" will not have to use union crews, a situation that substantially cuts production costs.

"Combined with the new technology, that's going to make it very cost-effective to produce these kind of shows," said David Hyslop, vice president of VTE Productions, a non-union video production service that contracts with ING to produce "Geraldo" when the show originates from Los Angeles.

With a $200,000-per-week budget, "The Investigators," as Rivera envisions it, will be his own flashy version of a "20/20" program with Rivera at the anchor desk. Tribune originally planned to launch the program in January, but Rivera says he decided to hold off until the current deluge of tabloid TV programs ("Inside Edition," "A Current Affair," "USA Today," etc.), "kill each other off."

Rivera sees "The Investigators" as his return--on his own terms--to mainstream, nighttime TV. So he doesn't want to debut in an atmosphere of anti-Rivera hysteria, he says.

The other aspect of the new, more fiscally conservative Geraldo Rivera is Miravella.

Using an infrequently invoked minority-ownership regulation instituted by the Federal Communications Commission a decade ago, five men teamed last month to begin buying their own network of TV stations--Rivera; Marin; former New York Rep. Herman Badillo; Marcellino Miyares, owner of Times Square Studios, and Tony Bonilla Sr., chairman of the National Hispanic Leadership Conference.

According to Rivera, there are currently 44 on the market and Miravella is bidding for all. He predicts flatly that the partnership will own its first station by April.

The key to their edge is an FCC ruling that gives huge capital gains tax breaks to station owners who sell their licenses to minorities.

"If everybody else goes in and offers $100 million, we can offer $95 million," he said. The deferral granted the seller on capital gains taxes is so sweet that it will put Miravella in a terrific bargaining position, Rivera said.

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