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Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Giving Thanks to Hollywood Well, Sort of

There’s no business like show business all right.

Just consider the theater of the absurd that has been performed daily in a Delaware courtroom as Michael Eisner and Michael Ovitz square off on who can be America’s most petulant, mean-spirited, boorish and immature businessman. As of this writing, it’s a very close contest, with Eisner perhaps holding the edge on the basis of his middle-of-the-night memo accusing Ovitz of auditioning for the Tony Perkins role in yet another remake of “Psycho.” (OK, so Eisner really didn’t quite put it that way, though he did call Ovitz a psychopath.)

But wait, there’s more. No less a body than the California Supreme Court is considering claims that the writing team from “Friends” created a hostile work environment by talking openly of their own sexual experiences and fantasies as well as speculating about those of the actors on the show. “They would basically sit like teenagers in a locker room, talking about, you know things they wanted to do to the cast and walking around pretending to masturbate and just ridiculous conduct,” said Amaani Lyle, a writers’ assistant on the discontinued series, who has filed a sexual harassment suit based on her experiences.

Thus far, the show’s writers and producers have acknowledged the coarse conduct by noting that they had to talk about sex a lot in order to come up with funny scripts.

No wonder the red states look askance at the ways of Hollywood. Eisner is worth close to a billion dollars, Ovitz is certainly a mega-millionaire himself no doubt bolstered by his $140 million Disney severance that’s at the root of the ongoing Delaware trial and the top writers at “Friends” were routinely making more than $1 million a season. You would think that all of them would be gracious and humble and thanking their lucky stars rather than acting like schoolyard bullies and jerks.

In Hollywood, of course, obnoxious behavior and outright lying are acceptable, even preferred, ways of doing business. Perhaps Mother Teresa would have come out unscathed had she chosen to become an agent or studio executive but there surely would have been a few tense moments over her chopped salad at The Grill.

Eisner himself conceded as much last week when he was reminded of a Disney press release that announced Ovitz’s departure after months of private rancor. “I will miss Michael’s energy” and “creativity,” the release read. Asked about those words, the Disney CEO said that in business and politics, “you say nice things. Nobody believes them but you say them.”

Nobody believes much of anything in the entertainment business at least they shouldn’t. There are times, in fact, when it would be tempting to crack down on the whole lot of them. Memo to President Bush: What about the creation of a Federal Bureau of Corporate Enforcement and Decency to set standards for unacceptable workplace behavior? (Simulated masturbation might be a place to start.) Or perhaps there should be a program of industry-wide behavior modification that would start with not cursing at personal assistants who get paid $7 an hour to pick up your laundry.

But the truth is no one has to be in show business. We are lucky enough to live in a country where there are so many choices, personal as well as professional. Some of us choose the secure, buttoned-down environment of Johnson & Johnson or Procter & Gamble. For others, it’s the independence and challenge of owning or managing a small business.

And for still others it’s Hollywood rowdy, randy, unpleasant and thoroughly unpredictable. Every day of the week, there are planeloads of fresh-faced recruits willing to withstand the pitfalls in search of the possibilities. There’s just no business like it. Thank goodness.

Mark Lacter is editor of the Business Journal.

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