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THE BIZ / ALAN CITRON

What'll Ted Turner's Right Hand Reach For? : Entertainment: A TBS chief, Scott Sassa, is surveying the landscape for his next move.

August 20, 1993|ALAN CITRON

Soon after Ted Turner nabbed New Line Cinema and Castle Rock Entertainment this week, his right-hand man in Hollywood hit the phones. Scott Sassa arranged for meetings with many of the top executives in town, presumably to discuss a future that's been clouded by the $650-million acquisitions.

Sassa sits on the Turner Broadcasting System board as the entertainment division chief and enjoys a great relationship with his mercurial boss, but he did not have a prominent role in the New Line and Castle Rock negotiations.

Friends now say the 34-year-old overachiever may not want the oversight post that's apparently his for the taking in the newly configured empire, since the management teams at New Line and Castle Rock have been guaranteed creative autonomy.

"He's capable of doing the job," said one source. "But there is no job."

Sassa declined comment about his plans, but sources say he could easily land other work if he can't find the right niche at Turner. The former USC cheerleader has his own cheerleading squad in Hollywood, stretching back to the launch of the Fox network.

One reason is Sassa's confident, forward-looking style. He was an early advocate of interactive TV and foresaw the broad potential of cable.

He is also known to be equally comfortable with business and creative people, and for keeping a workaholic's pace.

The William Morris Agency thought so much of Sassa that it invited him to speak on the future of the movie and TV businesses at a company retreat two years ago.

"He's absolutely one of the very best executives in town, especially when it comes to strategic planning," said Morris President Jerry Katzman, a longtime friend.

At Turner, where he's been mentioned as a possible successor to the chairman, Sassa's only big stumble was in trying to mount a challenger to MTV nearly a decade ago. The embarrassment of the failed Music Video Network was compounded when it was revealed that subscriber estimates had been exaggerated.

A dispirited Sassa left to work for Playboy, Fox and Ohlmeyer Communications, but returned in 1988--overseeing the most successful cable network launch in history with TNT.

He then developed TNT's strategy for producing feature-length films for cable, including the upcoming "Gettysburg."

While the ambitious Civil War epic is a pet project of Turner's, sources say Sassa was closely involved in the risky decision to premier it this fall as a four-hour, eight-minute movie before it appears on cable--a move that drove the cost up to $20 million.

"Sassa's been present at all the key moments, on the phone and in person," said director Ron Maxwell. "He made it very clear what was expected, but he was also very supportive."

In the recent past, Sassa also orchestrated Turner's acquisition of Hanna-Barbera, which allowed for the introduction of yet another Turner franchise, the Cartoon Network.

Soon after the New Line and Castle Rock acquisitions were announced Tuesday, Sassa boarded a plane for London, where he's overseeing the foreign operations of TNT and the Cartoon Network.

Turner, meanwhile, huddled at his Montana ranch with Castle Rock Chief Executive Alan Horn.

Some take that as a sign that Sassa will not be intimately involved in the operations of the companies, but other sources say Turner will make every effort to keep Sassa happy. Says one executive who's followed Sassa's career, "Ted would flip out if he lost him."

One option is for Sassa to coordinate activities among New Line, Castle Rock and Turner's existing entertainment companies. Colleagues point out that he could fill the same kind of role Michael Kuhn plays for Polygram Filmed Entertainment, as the overall manager and traffic cop for independent production companies such as Interscope and Propaganda.

Sassa could also work to ensure that New Line and Castle Rock avoid embarrassing public clashes, since by most accounts there's no great affection between the two companies.

Another possibility would be acting as Turner's production chief if the cable mogul decides to independently produce features to be distributed through New Line, as many anticipate given Turner's statements that Hollywood needs more family films.

Then again, he could just remain in his current job.

"There's no way to say what he'll do at this point," one source said. "But you can be sure he's examining all his options."

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Calling All Lonely Hearts: The Learning Annex has found a clever way to exploit the Heidi Fleiss controversy. It's offering a seminar called "How to Attract Women" for men disconsolate over the police crackdown in Hollywood. Participants will learn "how to go from buddy to bedmate," and "how to have the hottest women in town chasing after you"--presumably without having to worry about receiving a bill afterward for services rendered.

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Virtually the Same: And the options don't end there. For those turned off to any form of human contact, there's always "Virtual Valerie," the interactive sex kitten that's one of the most popular things going in CD-ROM. More than 100,000 copies of Valerie have been sold by Reactor, her Chicago-based creator. Next up is "Virtual Valerie: Director's Cut."

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