As if following a pair of giant pandas, the nation is watching news about AOL Time Warner to see if the media giants will mate successfully. To some insiders, the Tinseltown-meets-Dulles scenario is anything but a touchy-feely group hug.
"To Hollywood's creative community, AOL is Darth Vader," said Bishop Cheen, analyst with First Union Securities Inc. "The veteran of the dot-coms is the evil empire in this case."
Of course, it's too early in the game to tell how AOL, led by co-COO Robert Pittman, will play with Time Warner, led by co-COO Richard Parsons.
But the sheer size of AOL and the company's tendency to carefully bundle its brands under one roof is downright frightening to some producers, directors, writers and actors.
"Everybody on the creative side is concerned about bigness of the corporation," said Jerry Isenberg, a producer and professor at the USC School of Cinema and Television. "We as an industry are constantly watching the impact of conglomeratization on creativity."
In fact, most Hollywood creative types are probably more concerned right now about an imminent strike. When that's over, however, many of them will have to contend with the giant AOL bear stomping through town.
"They don't make movies. We do. They're looking at us to continue doing what we're doing," insisted Warner Bros. spokeswoman Barbara Brogliatti.
Nonetheless, AOL Time Warner pink-slipped more than 2,000 employees last week in an effort to streamline operations and cut redundancy. And most of those cuts occurred throughout Time Warner's movie, music and publishing empire.
Warner Bros. motion picture and television operations, at least for the time being, did not lose any employees, but the studio said recently that it is looking to slash as much as $100 million from its annual overhead.
More than 100 jobs were cut at Time Warner's New Line Cinema and its specialty film arm Fine Line Features. Weeks before the layoffs, New Line's thirty-something production chief Michael DeLuca was let go.
Analysts say that AOL Time Warner is, as expected, moving aggressively to cut costs in order to meet its goals for revenue and cash flow growth.
"When you have a merger this big, you have many opportunities for what the French refer to as ennui," Cheen said. "It's a giant canvas. It's allowed to have some editing."
What concerns many in Hollywood is how stifling that editing might be. Ironically, the relatively new, 15-year-old Internet powerhouse is perceived as the enemy establishment to some of Hollywood's older guard.
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