Universal hoping for reason to celebrate holidays
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From Correspondent Paul Vercammen
LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Hollywood is buzzing with the management shake-up at Universal. The studio is suffering through the type of year that would make any executive lose sleep, dropping from No. 6 to No. 9 in box office receipts with flops like "BASEketball" and "Blues Brothers 2000," and a delayed and disappointing "Meet Joe Black."
Earlier this week, chief executive Frank Biondi resigned under pressure from Universal's parent company, Seagram.
"I don't think Frank is being made the fall guy," says Jeffrey Logsdon, a media analyst for The Seidler Companies. "I think the company is taking some really new directions, whether it be with Polygram, whether it be with outsourcing their television, whether it be expanding their theme parks much more rapidly."
Edgar Bronfman, Jr., the CEO of Seagram, now takes more control of the entertainment business, saying in a statement the changes will help better manage Universal's entertainment assets.
Now Universal's film division needs a hit, preferably this holiday season.
"It hasn't been a great year so far for Universal -- that's no surprise at this point," says movie analyst Martin Grove. "But the fourth quarter has a number of major releases that the studio is very hopeful about."
There's high expectations for a Patch, and a pig named Babe.
"Patch Adams," a Christmas release, stars Robin Williams as a medical student in the 1970s who heals patients with humor. The movie is based on a true story.
"Babe: Pig in the City" brings back that lovable pig in a sequel that promises adventure in the Big Apple.
After the sequel ran into production delays, its world premiere was cancelled. But James Cromwell, one of the film's human stars, says that the "Babe" sequel will be out before Thanksgiving, and that it will delight audiences.
"It's wonderful because you get all this heat," says Cromwell. "Everybody says, 'Why, is it going to open? Is it going to be good? Are there bad parts in it?' And now they're all talking, so that's wonderful."
Seagram is also optimistic about Barry Diller running Universal's television unit, and over landing music acts such as U2, Bon Jovi and Hanson with its $10 billion purchase of Polygram Records.
"The music division is now going to be doubled in size," says Logsdon. "They're going to be the leading music company in the world."
It was certainly a tumultuous November to remember at Universal, but a few hit records, plus success for "Patch Adams" and the "Babe" sequel, could make everyone at Seagram soon forget Universal's management shake-up.
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