Sep 13, 2004

The Lion Sleeps With The Lady With The Torch

Back in the 80s, foreign firms began buying classic American studios like they were on fire. One of the most noteworthy purchases was Sony's purchase of Columbia Pictures from Coca-Cola (yeah, believe it or not, Coca-Cola actually owned television studios). MGM/UA was sold to everybody from Ted Turner (who actually kept the bulk of the library and animated projects) to foreign parties and back to Kirk Kerkorian, who sold it. Heck, back in the day, Kerkorian even sold the Culver City studios where MGM made their biggest films to Columbia Pictures.

After months of speculation between Time Warner (who suddenly has money to actually buy companies now) and a group led by Sony including the likes of Comcast, Kerkorian stayed away from the clouds and decided that The Lion should sleep with the Lady with the Torch, merging the large United Artists/Orion/Samuel Goldwyn/American International/Polygram/post-1986 MGM libraries with the Columbia/Screen Gems/Tri-Star/Revolution Studios film and television libraries. Film franchises like Barbershop, James Bond, Cody Banks, Spider-Man, Stargate, Species, The Pink Panther, Resident Evil, Underworld, and Charlie's Angels, and television shows like Green Acres, The Addams Family, All in the Family, Dawson's Creek, Fame, Jeremiah, Jeopardy, and Wheel of Fortune, and animated properties like the theatrical UPA shorts, Astro Boy, Pink Panther, All Dogs Go To Heaven, Men in Black, Robocop, and others are now under one house.

And once again, a Japanese company owns a major American studio.

Of course, I'm a bit biased. I was kind of rooting for Time Warner to buy MGM because strategically and from a portfolio perspective, it made a whole lot of sense. Time Warner does own a lot of the marquee MGM films in its Turner library. The animation library of MGM meshes well with the animation library of Time Warner. Although Time Warner wanted MGM, there was one major stakeholder who didn't want the company to go forward with the merger.

Ted Turner.

He has already been burned by Kerkorian in the past, paying too much for MGM back in the 80s. He sold the studio back, but kept the library as retribution. Plus, Kerkorian's a gambler, not unlike Turner, and the ego-trips would have been huge!

As a gambler, Kerkorian knew that the one that's willing to put more on the table would be the one he would be more comfortable with. So, when the Sony group put in that final hour at zero hour, the choice was made. In the end, it didn't really matter to him, since he would be billions richer by the end of the day, and he was rid of a company he never really wanted in the first place.

Seriously, when he bought MGM in the 70s, Kerkorian largely said that MGM was a casino company that happens to be in the movie making business. He bought MGM for the lion's head logo and the brand name, not the rich film legacy it created. And Sony, the winners of this high-profile poker match at the MGM Grand, is more or less putting yet another Hollywood studio with a strong legacy in its crown.

Now, there are three major solely American-owned companies as a result, Time Warner, Viacom, and Disney (NBC Universal is 20% owned by Vivendi, who really gypped General Electric by selling 80% of 1/3 of the original Universal company, and News Corp is still Aussie-based for the time being). Good game played, Sony. Now, actually do something productive with the purchase (and I don't mean just release Blu-Ray DVDs of MGM films).

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