A self-described political junkie at UCLA, Sloan went to Loyola Law School at night and hoped to run for office or get a political appointment. But the Watergate scandal changed his mind. "Suddenly, 100% of the criminals were lawyers," Sloan recalled.
So, in 1974, he instead became a lobbyist for the Screen Actors Guild.
Two years later, leveraging his relationships with agents and actors, he formed his own entertainment law firm with Kuppin. He represented such hot young TV stars as Ron Howard from "Happy Days," Gary Coleman from "Diff'rent Strokes," and John Schneider and Tom Wopat from "Dukes of Hazzard."
He may not have invented the "sickout," but Sloan routinely outmaneuvered the studios by instructing clients to walk off shows to get them raises.
Former Warner Bros. Chairman Bob Daly was angry for years after Sloan's "Dukes of Hazzard" clients quit the popular CBS series and sued the studio for allegedly cheating them out of millions of dollars.
"He didn't ask us for more money; he sued us for merchandising fraud the day of our annual meeting," recalled Daly, who said it was an embarrassment to the company's chief executive, the late Steve Ross.
The two stars eventually got a decent pay increase.
In 1983, the two lawyers traded in their careers and scraped together $2 million to buy New World from B-movie director Roger Corman.
The pair took full advantage of the go-go 1980s, when junk bonds were plentiful, to build New World into a leading supplier of prime-time TV shows, including "The Wonder Years."
But the company almost went broke, Kuppin said. When the stock market crashed in 1987, New World's glory days ended. "We were a little too anxious to expand and have bragging rights," Kuppin said. "We were arrogant guys, full of ourselves."
They still managed to sell the company to financier Ronald Perelman in 1989 for nearly $300 million, including debt. Sloan walked away with $25 million. He said he was so stressed out after the sale that he considered retiring to his beach house in the Malibu Colony. He was 39.
"It lasted seven minutes," Sloan said. "I didn't know what to do with myself."
When he was running New World, he had marveled as the value of U.S. TV shows had soared internationally. When he learned that TV stations in Germany, France, and the United Kingdom had been snapped up as those countries privatized broadcasting, he identified less obvious opportunities in Scandinavia and then Eastern Europe.
He bought a national cable channel in Norway and a local station in Denmark. Scandinavian Broadcasting System was born with a $5-million investment by Sloan. It eventually grew to 16 TV stations, 21 premium pay channels and 11 radio networks in nine countries.
The company went public in 1993 and was sold in 2005 -- when its annual revenue topped $1.3 billion -- to two private equity firms: Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. and Permira.
But Sloan was frustrated that he could never break into the big European markets. "It was almost a great company," he said.
Returning to his roots
Back in Los Angeles, Sloan had become chairman of Lionsgate, an independent film and TV company SBS had invested in to supply content for its channels. Lionsgate's mission was to take on the giants by being more cost-efficient. During his tenure, Lionsgate produced films, but as chairman, Sloan had no operational role.
Sloan stepped down from Lionsgate's board, possibly sensing a chance to replicate that vision under the esteemed MGM banner. In the summer of 2005, after MGM was acquired by the group led by Sony Corp. and Providence Equity Partners, Sloan asked his friend Jonathan Nelson, who headed the private equity firm, to put him on MGM's board. That fall, when the investors were looking to hire a new chief executive, Sloan pitched himself.
The owners bought it.
"We needed an entrepreneur who was going to try to do things differently," Nelson said. "Harry is a guy who is always looking for solutions. He'll never stop trying to find the answer."
No sooner had Sloan taken over than he sucker-punched Sony by wresting control of MGM. After the buyout, Sony had dismantled MGM, slashing its staff from 1,500 to 250 and focused on selling DVDs of MGM's vast library of 4,000 titles.
Sloan persuaded the MGM board to dump Sony as MGM's distributor of DVDs and TV shows because of poor performance and cut a new deal with rival 20th Century Fox.
Sloan also reversed course by announcing that MGM would get back into theatrical distribution. To fill the pipeline, he made deals with outside producers such as Harvey Weinstein to supply finished movies.
But so far, nearly every release MGM has handled has flopped at the box office. Though the company gets a distribution fee no matter how a film performs, such unmemorable titles as "Blood and Chocolate" and "Material Girls" have led some to wonder whether the roaring lion logo is a kiss of death.