Hollywood’s phone lines are burning up over the rumor that Stacey Snider might replace Ron Meyer at the head of Universal.
The problem is there are zero facts to back it up. Which will not keep tongues from wagging in the Hollywood echo chamber.
Here’s what my reporting turns up:
A senior executive with knowledge of Comcast’s thinking says flat-out it’s not true.
A senior executive with knowledge of Universal’s thinking says it’s not true, to their knowledge.
A senior executive with knowledge of Snider’s thinking says Snider has not been approached, is not negotiating and has had no offer. That said, she is certainly under consideration.
Got that straight?
A rumor like this one is a curious thing: It has legs because it’s plausible. It started months ago and then came back last week with a vengeance, like that fire monster on “True Blood.”
And it makes some sense -- provided Comcast is looking for a change. Snider once ran Universal under Meyer. Her partner Steven Spielberg never left the Universal lot, where his production company Amblin is still based. The talented Snider needs more to do. DreamWorks is not a ringing success, with "Real Steel" its latest disappointment after the debacle of “Cowboys & Aliens” and despite its one breakout hit, “The Help.”
But no one has any indication whether Comcast is looking for a leadership change.
We can all suppose that NBC Universal CEO Steve Burke is aware that Meyer is 67 and tilted more toward the end of his career than the middle. We all saw Wednesday's news that Universal Studios had a negative cash flow of $83 million for the most recent quarter, which it attributed to the failure of "Battleship." On the other hand, the studio had a bona fide hit in "Ted" this summer.
None of the stories so far suggest knowledge of Burke’s thinking.
Meyer, one of the most beloved executives in town with the rare ability to get things done by virtue of how much he is respected, still has three years on his contract. My insiders say he may in fact be a candidate for a more titular title as his contract wears on, but Comcast would be foolish to show him the door.
As for Snider, extricating her from DreamWorks would be complicated. She co-owns the company with Spielberg and is funded to the tune of several hundred million dollars by India’s Reliance. (DreamWorks originally arranged for $325 million in capital from the Indian company in 2009 in exchange for a stake in the studio.)
If she left, she would likely want to take her filmmaking partner along.
But there’s this studio to think about. Reliance was just tapped in April for another $200 million in funding. Disney has a distribution deal for another two-plus years.
Reliance might want to stay in to see its investment pay off, or it might welcome the opportunity to exit. And Disney’s Bob Iger would have to let DreamWorks go.
Those are far too many ifs. For any of this to be more than smoke, Steve Burke -- currently galavanting at the Olympics -- has to at least pick up the phone.