Disney | U2, Gwen Stefani | Norman Lear | Director's Cut Commercials

Disney Wars: A Grand Jury Time Bomb?

Tick, tick, tick.

Maybe you thought that when celebrity detective Anthony Pellicano went off to prison last January, that was that. Guess again.

A grand jury has been meeting all along, and is still meeting right now, according to several sources I've spoken to in the last few days. People are testifying, too.

The government, you see, is looking into Pellicano's alleged penchant for illegal wiretapping at the request of his powerful clients, a habit that numerous published reports have sought to document.

This grand jury, I am also told, may be churning up information that could have a bearing on the trial going on in Delaware Chancery Court , rought by Disney shareholders against the company's board of directors over a $140 million severance package paid to former superagent Michael Ovitz.

The shareholders claim that Disney CEO Michael Eisner didn't clear that package through the proper channels.

The Disney board members, as well as trial and industry observers, still wonder why Eisner would give in to Ovitz's demands without a fight.

Also still in question is why Eisner, who claimed Ovitz was a close friend, but also seemed to fear him and hate him, would work so hard to get him a job at Sony Pictures when the Disney situation was falling apart.

One reason, according to insiders: Pellicano, working for Ovitz, may have been scouring the landscape for any material that would cast Eisner in a bad light.

Indeed, there was some allusion made to this in the shareholders' trial back in November. When the plaintiffs' attorney, Steven G. Schulman, cross-examined Eisner, he questioned the Disney chief's characterization of Ovitz in notes from a phone call as "dangerous" and "a caged animal." He asked Eisner if he was worried that Ovitz represented a threat to him or to Disney.

Schulman, perhaps probing in an area that he may return to later, asked Eisner, "Did you consider him a danger to your privacy? Were you concerned that Mr. Ovitz had some way to harm you personally?"

Eisner vehemently replied, "No."

But in this world of spy versus spy, I am also told that a private detective in New York has been working for the shareholders' group, digging into the rocky relationship between Eisner and Ovitz. Those results may yet be revealed in court.

This detective is not from the usual crowd of Hollywood snakes in the grass, mind you, which should make his or her findings less tainted than usual.

But as much as Eisner indicated in his testimony that Ovitz could be a "loose cannon" and, in a memo, that he could be a "psychopath," Pellicano could have posed much more trouble.

Pellicano's current jail sentence resulted from an investigation into whether he had threatened Anita Busch, a then-Los Angeles Times reporter who was working on a story about him. Busch found a dead fish, a rose and a note reading "Stop" on her smashed windshield — now known as the famous "dead fish" incident.

When the LAPD searched Pellicano's offices, they found two practice hand grenades that had been filled with flash powder, along with military explosives and detonators in his safe.

Pellicano wound up pleading guilty in October 2003 to a felony count of possessing unregistered firearms and a felony charge of possessing C-4 explosive. His 27-month term began in January, with nary a mention since then of the grand jury.

But witnesses have continued to file past the inquiry all year, sources say, with Assistant District Attorney Daniel Saunders unrelenting in his pursuit of the truth.

That Pellicano worked for Ovitz is not news in and of itself.

Writers Howard Blum and John Connolly reported in "Vanity Fair" earlier this year that Pellicano was allegedly hired by entertainment lawyer Bert Fields to do some detective work for Ovitz. Fields is vehement, however, that that did not include wiretapping or anything else illegal.

It's still unclear whether or not the respected and feared Fields — who has represented such big Hollywood names as Tom Cruise and Sylvester Stallone, among others — has testified before the grand jury since Pellicano went to prison. A call to his Beverly Hills law office yesterday was not returned.

Coincidentally (or maybe not), Fields has a lot of experience beating Disney and Eisner: He represented Jeffrey Katzenberg against the company in Katzenberg's own $250 million severance suit, which was settled in Katzenberg's favor, and the family of Winnie the Pooh creator A. A. Milne, which Fields won outright.

U2 Hits No. 1, but Misses the Million Mark

All the money Apple Computer poured into promoting U2 wasn't enough.

The Irish rock band, which will probably be named as an inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next week, hit No. 1 this week with its new album, "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb." But it's a bittersweet victory.

Initially, U2 was thought to have sold between 900,000 and 1 million copies of its new CD in the opening week. To make that more likely, Interscope Records (part of the Universal Music Group) slashed the retail price almost in half last Friday to pump up sales at places like Best Buy, according to Web site HitsDailyDouble.com.

But even with an incredible marketing plan tied to Apple's iPod, it looks like the album fell short of the million mark. When all the numbers are wrapped up today, the CD will probably have sold closer to 750,000, and maybe even a little less.

That's no small feat these days, but consider what "Atomic Bomb" might have sold if it hadn't been illegally available on so many file-sharing services. This reporter was able to pull it off the Web about 10 days before its official release, and that was with a lot of squinting and a bottle full of Aleve.

Younger fans, more adept at such matters, no doubt had "Atomic Bomb" sizzling in their headphones long before that. I hope they appreciate the beauty of a song like "Original of the Species" — it's one of U2's best ever.

Interscope looks like it might also have had a problem with the first solo album by Gwen Stefani, lead singer of No Doubt. Her "Love.Angel.Music.Baby" will come in around No. 6 with 250,000 copies sold, just a notch or so ahead of American Idol star Fantasia Barrino's debut on J Records.

All in the Pensions for Norman Lear

Beloved TV producer Norman Lear was sensitive about race issues when he produced "All in the Family" and "Good Times" back in the '70s. Now he may have to put his money where his mouth is.

Lear's Concord Records, having a hit right now with Ray Charles' "Genius Loves Company" album, just bought Fantasy Records for $83 million.

Included in that deal: the catalog of legendary Memphis label Stax Records, which closed down in 1975 after a glorious 15-year run. Among its acts were Sam & Dave, Rufus and Carla Thomas, Otis Redding, Luther Ingram, The Bar-Kays, The Staple Singers and The Dramatics.

Unfortunately, Stax artists have been lost in the shuffle of time. Many of them do not have proper health insurance or pensions, despite selling millions of albums and continuing to be played on the radio today.

Hopefully, Lear's people will do the right thing and restore some luster (and money) to the Stax legacy.

Fantasy, by the way, was sold to Lear by music and movie producer Saul Zaentz of "The English Patient" fame. Zaentz became notorious in the rock world for his long, punishing fight over publishing royalties with Creedence Clearwater Revival's John Fogerty. The group's albums are also part of the Fantasy package.

How to Fill 'The Hours'? Diamonds

Have you seen the new Christmas commercial from the folks at the Diamond Trading Company? It's directed by Stephen Daldry, the man who put "The Hours" and "Billy Elliott" on the silver screen. Daldry is just one of many film directors — such as Robert Altman and Spike Lee — who moonlight doing commercials.

Last week, though, Daldry got something pretty rare: a premiere for his commercial, which is called "Steps." Not only is there a short version for regular TV, but there's a "director's cut," of all things.

Why not? In the story, a young man surprises his bride to be with a proposal. The twist: He carts her whole family to a spot in Europe to be witnesses.

Quentin Tarantino, Ang Lee and the late John Frankenheimer are among other big names who've made commercials in the last few years. I remember when this was considered a big deal and groundbreaking. Now it's pretty much necessary for a director's financial survival.

But what's next, red carpets for commercial premieres? Don't be surprised.