On Showtime’s Episodes, John Pankow plays a two-faced president of an American TV network. His Merc Lepidus is the type of guy who’ll tell clients how much he loves their show even though he’s never seen it, and he’ll interrupt his own mother’s funeral to take a call about Matthew Broderick suddenly becoming available to star in his own sitcom. There’s a running joke throughout the show’s first couple of seasons that Merc passed on a goofy-sounding sitcom which then turned into a huge hit for rival network. The ensuing professional embarrassment from such a momentous mistake drives him nuts, and [spoiler alert] it does eventually cost him his job.
It’s all very funny in an “Inside Hollywood” kind of way, and also because Pankow is such a delight in the role, the insincerity dripping out of his every pore. However, there’s a certain authenticity to it because sometimes what can kill a Hollywood executive is not the movies/shows they make but instead the movies/shows they could have made and chose not to. It’s that type of fear which leads to studios, major and mini-major alike, spending big at film festivals even though history shows that’s usually a bad investment. Acquisitions executives dread being the guy or gal who could have had Blair Witch Project but went with Paris, Texas instead. The head of the studio is going to march into your office and demand to know why that other company found that gem which you missed.
Thankfully New Line (which is owned by WB) president Toby Emmerich wasn’t in his office this weekend. He’s on vacation in Italy. However, if he was there he might have had some explaining to do. In fact, Warners production chief Greg Silverman and marketing and distribution chief Sue Kroll could be right there with him in that department because those three run WB now under CEO Kevin Tsujihara. That’s their boss, and he might be interested to know why exactly Universal is boasting about Straight Outta Compton’s huge opening weekend when in fact that movie was in development at New Line for years. Universal gets to brag about Compton having the best August opening for an R-rated movie while WB has to smile politely and pretend that Man from U.N.C.L.E.’s opening is not the franchise failure it so clearly is.
After years of development, New Line Cinema president Toby Emmerich and other top Warners executives reluctantly let Compton go to Universal, believing its budget was too high [it’s eventual production budget is thought to be $29 million]. Universal reveled in its $60.2 domestic million opening. So did producers Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, each of whom reportedly deferred an estimated $2.5 million in fees and now will reap the benefits. And so, too, will Thomas Tull’s Legendary Pictures, which caught flak for ditching Warners for Universal in 2013 but now has a 50 percent investment in Compton (and a big chunk of Jurassic World’s $1.61 billion worldwide gross).
Of course, if WB/New Line had made Compton there’s no guarantee it would have been as big of a hit because who knows if it would have turned out to be the same exact movie it is now. Plus, WB’s marketing for it may not have been nearly as strong as Universal’s, which planned its marketing in partnership with Apple, Beats audio and Universal’s own Interscope Records. Still, it’s got to sting knowing Compton could have been theirs, especially in a summer in which Universal didn’t really need yet another hit (Furious 7, Jurassic World, Trainwreck, Pitch Perfect 2, Minions) whereas WB/New Line has mostly had San Andreas and a bunch of box office misses (Hot Pursuit, Magic Mike XXL, Entourage, Man from U.N.C.L.E.). That’s why WB really can’t wait for its DC comic book movies and Harry Potter spin-off franchise (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) to arrive.