Sumner Redstone, get off the couch

Sumner Redstone recently fired Tom Cruise, complaining of what the WSJ calls "public antics and incessant stumping for personal causes." 

We don’t think that someone who effectuates creative suicide and costs the company revenue should be on the lot.

Mr. Redstone, what in God’s name would you know about "effectuating creative suicide?"  There is a presumption here, that Mr. Redstone is capable of making this determination and that he is correct in making it here.

A great many movie goers might be inclined to say that they don’t much care how Mr. Cruise conducts himself off the screen just so long as he entertains and engages on the screen.  The private and the public Cruise may have been delinked.  It’s almost certainly true that Mr. Redstone has never tested the proposition or even considered it in any systematic way.  I would be very surprised if he even had a model of contemporary culture that helped decide the matter one way or another.  No, he’s just winging it…and risking some part of the future of Paramount in the process.  Very odd, really, when you stop to think about it. 

This raises an interesting possibility: that when Chairman Redstone publicly fires a big star and does so with grand declaration to which he is not entitled, he is engaging in behavior that is not very different from jumping on the couch in the middle of an Oprah interview.

References

Marr, Merissa.  2006.  Sumner Redstone Gives Tom Cruise His Walking Papers.  Wall Street Journal.  August 23, 2006.

12 thoughts on “Sumner Redstone, get off the couch”

  1. Grant

    You seem to be forgetting that this is tinseltown. Surely histrionics and public bust-ups are all part of the show. It’s just a bit more unusual to see them coming from a man like Redstone.

    Having said that, it may be that the real reason for the bust-up is to break away from the enormous equity share based upon 100% movie sales accounting Cruise and his production company originally negotiated with Paramount for the Mission Impossible franchise.

    Who knows.

    Cruise is one of the few producers capable of delivering today’s billio-dollar film franchises.

    I suspect that in years to come when Redstone is just another retired ex-CEO, Cruise’s movies will still be being watched and he will still be producing movies.

  2. My first thought on hearing this news was to wonder for which of Tom Cruise’s movies did the target demographic include Sumner Redstone? Indeed, are there any movies being made by anybody aimed at octogenerian billionaires? If the answer is no, I just wonder what special insights Mr Redstone might have into target customer perceptions of Mr Cruise?

  3. This reminds me of scores of conversations I’ve been in, in which elderly white m/billionaires provided “authoritative/definitive” opinions (which drove enormous business decisions) on “what’s sexy now” for 17-25 year old women. I remember sitting there in astonished horror and thinking, “well, we’ve certainly gone through the looking glass now.”

  4. I’ve had similar experiences, Tom. The most amusing were the cellular phone company execs (men in their fifties, to a man) adamant that nobody, just nobody, would want to send text messages to anyone else when they could simply call them.

  5. If someone had just held your property hostage to their cult leader’s commandments, would you be willing to sign contracts with them again? Especially if, in doing so, you’d necessarily be committing yourself to leaving even more of your own wealth under their control?

    I doubt Mr. Redstone gives a damn about South Park, but a movie star who threatens to renege on his postproduction obligations unless his studio’s parent company bullies another of its subsidiaries out of a behavior the star happens to personally dislike is a movie star that the studio can do better without. Being a movie star does not give Tom Cruise veto power over the behavior of all Viacom subsidiaries. Upon discovering that he doesn’t have this power by right, this year he extracted it by extortion.

    If you happen to enjoy being the victim of extortion, I’m sure any number of criminal organizations would be happy to make your acquaintance. But don’t blame Redstone for reacting in a more typical and reasonable fashion, once MI3 left the theaters and Cruise lost his leverage.

  6. I think Cruise has gone wacko during the last year. However, I don’t see how applying pressure on Viacom et al is extortion (if indeed Cruise did any such thing, which is in doubt.) I think it was simply that Cruise knew he had the influence to get what he wanted, so he applied it. Again, I think he’s lost it but extortion it wasn’t.

  7. First, the Scandalous Smithsonian-Showtime deal, then a bigoted attack on an arguably stupid actor’s beliefs. What do they have in common? According to gossips, input from the current Mrs. R. The Showtime deal was so off the wall, so un-Sumnerish. Can it be that the ex-schoolteacher envisions herself as censor and arbiter of what our kids see in the classroom? (The Smithsonian gave Showtime control of the National archives so that to use any of its material, a film maker would have to have have permission from Showtime.)Paulita, perhaps?

  8. Again a classic example of a clueless man being led by an even more clueless woman… thank Paula Fortunato for paramount/viacom’s blunder in firing Tom Cruise.

  9. From Tyler at Marginal Revolutions, an economic explanation for why Cruise could be easily fired:

    http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2006/08/why_paramount_d.html

    btw, I disagree that Cruise can still deliver blockbuster hits. Younger audiences at theater’s I’ve been at are pretty impatient with him – they don’t really get his appeal. And he’s become less appealing to viewers in their 40s, those with the fondest memories of risky business, etc.

  10. And, all will be forgiven when Tom produces the next mega block-buster…It’s all about the money, baby. My thought was the studio was looking for an excuse to “fire” him.

    I do agree, however, that Tom’s audience is dwindling. I loved him in Risky Business even, (I’m embarrassed to admit) liked Top Gun. He can’t really act – but he is eminently watchable (But why do all his movies have to include a running scene?)

  11. I’ve always liked Cruise’s work. (I even saw “All the Right Moves” in the theater, although I gave Born on the Fourth of July a miss). He can carry movies that otherwise would be dead–see Rain Man or Collateral. Cruise has a ton of successful movie-making left in him. He’s barely scratched the surface on playing villains, for example.

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