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MEDIA'S MEGA-DEAL MAKERS | PROFILE: ART OF THE DEAL

Perelman's Not Out of the Game Just Yet

July 18, 1996|NANCY RIVERA BROOKS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ronald O. Perelman isn't turning in his entertainment mogul's license.

Despite the proposed sale of the television mini-empire that Perelman amassed in only seven years, the billionaire New York investor continues to be keenly interested in entertainment and could resurface in any number of mutations, Perelman watchers say.

The $2.48-billion deal announced Wednesday to sell New World Communications Group to Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. puts an end for now to Perelman's ambitious plans for a station and programming behemoth.

It leaves Perelman's holding company, MacAndrews & Forbes, with Marvel Entertainment Group of comic book fame as its sole entertainment property.

Perelman certainly comes away from the deal with a healthy profit and memories of a venture that never quite matched his ambition.

One of the quintessential deal makers of the 1980s, Perelman morphed his image into more of a 1990s-style chief executive, familiar with the minute details of his many holdings, which include the Revlon cosmetics company, the Coleman lantern and outdoor equipment maker, First Nationwide Bank, cigar companies and medical labs.

He is said to be fond of the glitz of the cosmetics and entertainment industries and, in fact, exudes many of the qualities of a tough-guy mogul from a B-movie. Perelman is short, no more than 5 feet, 5 inches tall, and is seldom without a cigar in his mouth--lit or unlit.

In 1989, Perelman bought New World, then just a television production company, for $145 million and proceeded to spend about $100 million more for 12 television stations, as well as other small independent production companies.

But his bold move in 1994 to convert New World-owned CBS affiliates to Murdoch's Fox network in exchange for $500 million has been more costly and difficult than expected, analysts said.

In addition, New World Chairman Brandon Tartikoff did not conjure up the kind of ratings hit for which he was famous in his years at NBC. Tartikoff is leaving New World on July 31.

But the deal with Murdoch is a "sweet victory" for Perelman, said Arthur E. Rockwell, an analyst with Yaeger Capital Markets in Los Angeles.

The $27-per-share price is close to the $29 per share that Perelman reportedly was holding out for during previous negotiations with Murdoch, which broke down earlier this year.

Perelman was able to build New World quickly, accumulating most television stations in the last two years, and he altered the TV map by jumping ship to Fox network, Rockwell said.

But the stations "have not performed as well as they could have . . . because of the transition [to Fox] and the, frankly, rank amateurism of the stations," he said. "Perelman was getting P.O.'d that the stations were not performing."

Although this foray into entertainment may not have performed as Perelman would have hoped, there are few who would count the impatient deal maker out of the industry. He has expressed interest in entering both the music business and gaming business.

"He certainly has the ability and [resources] to do anything he wants to in the industry," said one high-ranking studio executive.

Perelman spokesman Jim Conroy said MacAndrews & Forbes still has a substantial interest in the entertainment industry by way of Marvel Entertainment, which is in the middle of creating Marvel Studios, which will develop film projects based on Marvel characters, such as Spiderman and the Incredible Hulk. "As far as other entertainment acquisitions, we usually don't forecast what we're going to do," Conroy said.

Times staff writers Brian Lowry and Geraldine Baum contributed to this report.

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