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COMPANY TOWN | The Biz

Ovitz Creating Next Model for Show Biz Firm

September 11, 1998|CLAUDIA ELLER

Two years after leaving one of the most high-profile careers in Hollywood, Michael Ovitz has quietly begun putting together what he hopes will be a new kind of entertainment company melding artists and athletes and the worlds of movies, television, theater, the Internet and sports.

Following his ill-fated and short-lived presidency of Walt Disney Co., Ovitz is bent on recapturing the kind of visibility and huge success he enjoyed as Hollywood's most powerful talent agent. He believes he can do so by creating a new paradigm for an entertainment enterprise, in much the same way he redefined the agency business in the 1980s and '90s.

Ovitz extended the boundaries of the talent business by expanding into advertising, corporate consulting and other nontraditional areas of representation. What form Ovitz's new business will take--and whether he can pull it off--remains to be seen.

Ovitz declined to be interviewed about his plans. But sources say one element of his strategy is to form a talent management and production company. Already, between sorting out the financial debacle he inherited at Livent Inc. and pursuing the possibility of an NFL franchise in Los Angeles, the former super agent is doing something awfully familiar to him: helping facilitate deals in Hollywood for some high-profile directors, writers and producers. For the moment, he's doing it at no charge while laying the groundwork for his reemergence in the talent business.

Ovitz has talked to a number of young agents and managers over the last year about the possibility of launching a management/production venture. They include Rick Yorn, who represents such hot young stars as Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz, but Yorn is under contract at a competing management firm, Industry Entertainment.

As speculated in Time magazine this week, the company would look to have a client roster that would boast of as many young up-and-comers as the kind of seasoned A-list actors, writers, directors and producers that he used to represent at Creative Artists Agency.

But the talent company is only one component of an emerging business plan. Sources said Ovitz isn't sure yet what connective tissue will hold these creative disciplines and businesses together, saying that Ovitz will be figuring that out over the next six months.

One Wall Street analyst compared Ovitz to media mogul Barry Diller, who over the course of two years has cobbled together various businesses using public stocks as a currency, finally landing USA Networks, which has become his company's center of gravity.

"Ovitz is quietly putting out feelers and building relationships and looking for opportunities like Diller did," said the analyst, noting: "Barry now operates a $9-billion public company whose assets range from USA and the Sci-Fi Channel to Ticketmaster and HSN."

Ovitz, like Diller, is looking to seize business opportunities that require low levels of capital, hold the promise of solid returns and that have high visibility in the worlds of entertainment and sports.

"Talent management is the best business on the planet because there are no costs involved," said an industry analyst.

After suffering what has got to be one of the most humiliating falls from grace ever in Hollywood--being fired from Disney by his former best friend Michael Eisner--Ovitz has been slowly trying to make his way back into the center of action. He is frequently seen dining at such Hollywood hot spots as Barney Greengrass and The Grill in Beverly Hills, the city where he has a temporary headquarters and is planning to occupy more than a floor of office space.

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His most high-profile deal since resurfacing: a $20-million investment in Livent, the company behind such hit musical stage productions as "Ragtime" and "Showboat"--has been hampered by the discovery of "serious irregularities" by the theater company's now-ousted founder Garth Drabinsky and his top lieutenant Myron Gottlieb.

Ovitz and his partner in the venture, former investment banker Roy Furman, have come under criticism by some in Hollywood and in the investment community for not doing sufficient research before investing in the company.

Ovitz also has been busy with various real estate ventures, including helping develop shopping/entertainment complexes in various parts of the country. He and partners have a million-square-foot center under construction in Port Elizabeth, N.J., and he is a one-third partner, along with David Rockwell and Barry and Jim Loeks, in what they hope will be series of entertainment-themed locations filled with interactive and sports activities for families.

He also is lobbying for a football franchise in L.A., something critics say is a longshot.

At the same time, Ovitz has been working hard to maintain his relationships with some of Hollywood's biggest creative players, advising some former clients and others he considers to be his friends in the business.

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