Pipelines to Geffen

Finally, some meaty if unattributed info out of the billionaires trying to buy the Los Angeles Times. LA Weekly columnist Nikki Finke has been sounding confident for months about her reports from David Geffen's camp. In today's piece and accompanying blog entry at Deadline Hollywood Daily, she offers an advance look at what he would do with the paper:

Here痴 what he痴 saying to friends: He値l pour money into more hires. He plans to staff -- more like stuff -- the paper with name writers and journalism stars. (Of course, he値l raid The New York Times, where Frank Rich and his wife, Alex Witchel, are his good friends and occasional overnight guests. So are Nora Ephron and Nick Pileggi. So are a lot of literati.) He値l demand quality. He値l ratchet up the Web site (even though he hates how prohibitively expensive it is to do that). He値l figure out a way to bring in Latinos as readers. Geffen loathes how boring, badly written, inconsequential and pedestrian the L.A. Times editorial and opinion section is. He thinks nobody reads it. He knows nobody talks about it. Most of all, he wants his newspaper to be talked about. He値l put the newsroom ahead of the ludicrous profit margins demanded by Wall Street and the Tribune Co. That痴 not to say he wants to lose money, just that he thinks it痴 a good investment already (though not if its stock price keeps dropping). What not to expect from Geffen is that he値l devote every waking minute of his life to the venture. But, at 63, he痴 looking for a new challenge. The movie biz, well, that hasn稚 excited him for years. His Oscar-touted pic Dreamgirls could be his last showbiz hurrah. (And some scenes from it were, ironically, filmed inside the LA Times building.)

Her assurance that Geffen will beat out Eli Broad and Ron Burkle — "no one outgames Geffen. Everyone in Hollywood knows that" — seems a bit breathless, but she recaps his financial strengths. Meanwhile, today's New York Times covers some of the same ground and reports that Geffen is confiding in friends that his next major goal is to acquire the Times:

David Geffen spends more time schmoozing with an elite cadre of journalists than just about any other mogul in Hollywood.

The billionaire often invites them to his sprawling estate in the heart of Beverly Hills, where De Koonings and Pollocks hang on the walls. In September, his guest was Leo Wolinsky, a managing editor of The Los Angeles Times, and they broached the delicate question of whether Mr. Geffen might try to buy the struggling newspaper....His wooing of Mr. Wolinsky, with whom he has a continuing dialogue, has made him a favorite potential owner among many top editors.


A number of associates said Mr. Geffen was attracted to both the challenge of owning The Los Angeles Times and the status it offered.

滴e has more money than God, said one Hollywood executive who has known Mr. Geffen for decades, but asked not to be named. 滴e is bored with the movie business and he is restless. For him, this would be a new challenge. With DreamWorks, there was always the involvement of selling it. He does not have involvement right now.

Today's L.A. Times piece says that Geffen thinks Tribune is overvaluing the paper and notes animosity between Geffen and Broad:

Broad and Geffen's mutual dislike has been well-known in the city's power circles, and that animosity appears to be fueling a competition over The Times. Each side has questioned the seriousness of the other's attempts to acquire the paper, say those who have spoken to the men independently.

Geffen's backers tout his fortune, estimated by Forbes magazine at $4.6 billion, and suggest that a cash purchase would avoid the complications that come with partners and bank loans. Geffen often raises The Times in conversation, these people say, and talks about how he would improve the paper's look and its coverage of the arts, among other things. He has said the would try to get New York Times star columnist Maureen Dowd to jump to the Los Angeles Times.

"He seems to care deeply about it and to be working at it," said another investor, who has discussed The Times with Geffen.

An LAT sidebar looks at Broad and Burkle and says it's unlikely they could jointly own the Times since both are known control freaks. Also: Gabriel Snyder in Variety.

Yesterday: Broad & Burkle submit a bid

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