Viacom's Rationale: Cruise Is Risky Business

By William Booth and Anita Huslin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, August 24, 2006

LOS ANGELES -- In Hollywood, when a huge movie star and his studio break up, they almost always promise to remain friends forever. There is a fog of meaningless sweet nothings about how each wishes the other nothing but the best -- and often a suitcase of make-nice go-away money.

Then there is the Cruise crackup, which is remarkably and publicly nasty -- in a town where mortal enemies smile and air-kiss on the red carpet.

Graceless, shocking, offensive! That's how Cruise's agent, Rick Nicita of the powerhouse agency CAA, put it to the Los Angeles Times. Normally, agents do not even like being quoted in the Los Angeles Times, and when they are, they certainly don't call studio bosses names .

As anyone above the Earth's surface knows by now, Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone announced via the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday that his movie studio, Paramount Pictures, was severing its ties with Tom Cruise and his production company after 14 years and $2.5 billion in gross receipts.

"It's nothing to do with his acting ability, he's a terrific actor," the 83-year-old billionaire said. "But we don't think that someone who effectuates creative suicide and costs the company revenue should be on the lot."

Effectuated and costly suicide? Ouch.

The split was not completely unexpected. Tom Cruise costs a lot of money and Tom Cruise makes a lot of money. He is arguably still the reigning male action star in America. His last seven pictures each grossed more than $100 million at the domestic box office, but he reportedly takes home 20 percent of the ticket receipts. So reaching a financial impasse -- it is show business -- would be reasonable.

But why so public? Surely not just for the public's entertainment.

It was the way it was done that has Hollywood staring, slack-jawed. Peter Guber, chairman of Mandalay Entertainment Group and co-host of AMC's "Sunday Morning Shootout," says Redstone "is one very smart business person. He does nothing by accident. This is a very calculated decision."

Normally, Guber says, a parting of the ways between Cruise and studio would have been placed in Variety by Paramount chief Brad Grey "saying we were unable to come to satisfactory terms but we wish Tom well, blah, blah, blah, and Tom would have said how they'd shared this great relationship, blah, blah, blah."

You know the drill. But no, the split is announced by Redstone, who calls into question Cruise's sanity on the front page of the nation's premier financial newspaper -- while Cruise's production company is reportedly securing funding by Wall Street hedge funds.

"The methodology is the mystery," says Guber, who only half-kiddingly wondered whether there might be some secret da Vinci coded message in the way the parties uncoupled.

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