The irony can't be lost on the folks at ABC/Disney: If they're even considering ponying up $25 million a year for David Letterman's services, they have Mike Ovitz to blame.
It was Ovitz, the then-super agent at Creative Artists Agency, who cut the original Letterman deal moving the late night talk show host from NBC to CBS. Ovitz reportedly secured Letterman $14 million a year back in 1993, a staggering amount by any standards.
Ovitz, of course, subsequently left CAA and joined Disney for what is now a legendary and expensive year in the movie business. By the time he left at the end of 1996, there was much rancor between Ovitz and Disney chief Michael Eisner. The corporation wound up settling his contract for something in the neighborhood of $130 million including stock options.
To this day, Eisner and Ovitz are considered mortal enemies.
How much did Letterman rely on Ovitz's master stroke? In 1995 Letterman gave a rare interview to Larry King. Here is part of that transcript:
KING: What's he [Ovitz] like to have represent you?
LETTERMAN: It's great.
KING: I mean as a guy, what's he like, as a man?
LETTERMAN: I'm very fond of the man, very, very fond of the man. I want to tell you something, not that he needs me to say nice things about him, but he has done things for me quietly, personal things, not big things, but significant things that were important to me at the time for which I'll never be able to thank him or never forget.
Meanwhile, there's been speculation that Ovitz may be advising Letterman once again. But I am told that CAA is still representing Letterman, and quite well it would seem from how things are going so far. Maybe Ted Koppel should give them a call.
You may wonder what happened to the Fugees' lead singer, Lauryn Hill? Remember her best new artist Grammy in 1999? Remember her best-selling 1998 album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill?
That album was released nearly four years ago. And since then, nothing. Nada.
So it seems that on Sunday at 9 p.m., when many TV viewers will be catching the second new episode of Six Feet Under on HBO, Lauryn will be making her big comeback.
I hope someone's watching, and I hope they have MTV2, because that's where Hill will debut a dozen or so new songs, all performed acoustic and live (on tape) on an episode of MTV's Unplugged.
MTV2 is not MTV, mind you, but a branch of MTV that is not available on all cable systems.
What's going on? Since the announcement was made by MTV on its Web site on Monday with little fanfare, the 411 is not too promising. Apparently, Hill turned in an album of acoustic songs to Sony Music last year, which they promptly rejected. She had recorded the same songs in this Unplugged special last summer before a live audience, but the show was shelved until someone could figure out what to do with it.
"[The album she turned in] was all acoustic songs with little orchestration or back up," says a Sony Music source. "Considering that India.Arie and Alicia Keys had huge successes with just that sort of thing, it's too bad Sony didn't just put the album out last summer. They might have had a big hit with it."
Now, rather than throw it away completely, Sony says — unofficially — to expect not the original studio album but the Unplugged version sometime in April. Since Sony's fiscal year ends March 31, the company is obviously trying to distance itself from a financial failure.
As for the Unplugged show, which should yield a tiny loyal audience, Hill's tracks do not include her Fugees hit, "Killing Me Softly" or her hit "That Thing" from Miseducation. The songs according to MTV.com are: "Mr. Intentional," "Adam Lives in Theory", "Oh Jerusalem" "War in the Mind," "I Find It Hard to Say (Rebel)," "Water," "I Just Want You Around" "Peace of Mind," "The Mystery of Iniquity" "I Get Out," "I Remember," "So Much Things to Say" and "The Conquering Lion."
The Grammy Awards may have been boring to watch and low-rated, but the acts who performed on the show have reaped the benefits of a worldwide audience.
Since last week, for example, Alicia Keys' Songs in A Minor, has sold over 100,000 copies and is back in the top 5. Best album winner, O Brother, Where Art Thou? is up to No. 2 with 215,700 copies sold to new fans and curiosity seekers.
U2 and India.Arie also picked up speed, with 82,000 and 63,000 copies sold respectively. Even Mary J. Blige's charged performance of "No More Dramas" motivated 55,000 new fans into the stores.
But the big news in the record stores this week is the surprise performance by Alanis Morissette. Her new album, Under Rug Swept, came in at No. 1 with 223,000 copies sold. This is kind of amazing since her last album did not fare so well. Alannis, as reported here first some time ago, had a huge fight with her record label, Maverick/Warner Bros., last year because they didn't want to give her much of an advance for Rug. But when new Warner Bros. chief Tom Whalley stepped in, he smoothed things over, according to my sources. And now the story has a happy ending.