Rod Stewart: More Ballads on the Way

Rod Stewart Time Warner Merger George Michael Beyonce, Queen Latifah 'Fahrenheit' Prediction

Rod Stewart: More Ballads on the Way

Shaggy-haired rocker (I do not mean rocking chair) Rod Stewart is no fool. With two best-selling albums of standards already on the charts, Stewart is not planning on killing off a good thing. He's in the studio right now with producers Richard Perry and Phil Ramone working on "Volume III" of his "Great American Songbook," due for release on J Records this fall.

When Perry originally played me a few tracks he'd produced of Stewart singing standards in the summer of 2000, I could never have imagined the windfall that was right around the corner for all of them. Last fall, both "Volume I" and "II" made the top 20 around the holidays. Could he make a hat trick this time? Knowing Clive Davis, who came up with this marketing plan, the answer is yes.

Stewart brought his unique form of sweetly nostalgic warbling to the Robin Hood Foundation's annual dinner at the Javits Center last night, where very rich people stood up and offered excessive amounts of money for silent auction items like trips they didn't need and dinners at fancy restaurants.

I don't have all the details because this year, more than even last year, the press was banned. The Robin Hood-ers (or are they Hood-ites?) didn't like what I wrote about them last year, that it was an all-white group and that nearly none of them stuck around to see an amazing performance by James Brown. Only "Sopranos" actor Steve Buscemi and his wife seemed the least bit interested. Too bad: Brown's show featured his wife. The rest is misery, er, history.

Robin Hood, by the way, legendarily stole from the rich and gave to the poor. The Robin Hood Foundation is sort of like that, raising a lot of money for poor people and dispensing its $60 million or so among many groups, some of them not as needy as others. It also pays its staff rather well. Five of its top execs make good six-figure incomes, a director on its board gets $250K, and they list 28 more staffers at $50K or more a year. A total of almost $5 million goes just to salaries. Ya-hoo! It pays to be generous.

And, oh yes, all the swells who dined tonight might like to know that according to the group's tax filing ending on December 31, 2002, the gala from two years managed to lose a little over $1.5 million.

Does Viacom's Redstone Want a Time Warner Merger?

The news this morning that Mel Karmazin was out at Viacom-CBS is not a complete surprise.

Apparently as far back as late February, Karmazin — according to my sources — has been locked in a dispute (actually one of several) with Viacom's Sumner Redstone over the latter's idea to merge his company with Time Warner.

In fact, Redstone, I am told, has proposed this idea to Time Warner's Richard Parsons, who has been against the idea. Nevertheless, some leading shareholders at Time Warner are said to favor it, and Redstone has been adamant in pushing forward.

"He's told friends that it's the last big deal he wants to do before he retires," said a source. Redstone announced Tuesday that will retire in three years.

Merging Viacom and Time Warner would not be easy, certainly, or quickly approved by federal regulators. But the main idea would be to bring together CBS, a broadcast network, with CNN, a huge cable outlet. Right now CBS has no cable component, and it's the one thing it's sorely lacking.

But other problems would be more obvious. Each conglomerate has a movie studio, for example. Time Warner has Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema. Viacom has Paramount. "Paramount could be sold," a Time Warner insider suggested to me. "And HBO," which Time Warner also owns, "could take over Showtime," which is owned by Viacom. "Of course it would be great to get MTV back."

MTV started out as a Warner Communications property. In a merger, Time Warner's massive cable system would have access to MTV Networks, as well as Nickelodeon and lots of other programming.

Both Time Warner and Viacom have book publishing units, too. But Time Warner has been trying for years to unload Warner Books, with no luck. Viacom's Simon & Schuster would actually be a perfect parent company for it, taking in TW's Little, Brown & Co. also and merging with its Scribner division. That would certainly position Simon & Schuster as more of a competitor to the behemoth Random House/Bantam/Doubleday group. (It's hard to believe there was a time when these were all separate and distinct companies.)

So will we be looking forward to a new TimeWarnerCNNCBSViacom to rival GeneralElectricNBCUniversal and DisneyABCMiramax? Stay tuned. Stranger things have happened.

George Michael: Send Oprah a Thank You

George Michael, the pop star, not the sportscaster, should send Oprah Winfrey a big "thank you" this week.

His newest album in years, "Patience," was sort-of dead when it arrived on the charts two weeks ago. But Oprah saved him.

"Patience" hit the charts around No. 25, and looked like it was going to be more of a curiosity than a best seller. But then Michael appeared on Oprah's show last week, where he talked about all his scandals and performed the most winning versions of his chestnuts "Father Figure" and "Faith" than anyone — including his publicist — could have hoped.

The result is that "Patience" looks like it jumped about 14 points, to No. 11, and Michael sold an impressive 75,000 - 80,000 copies in his second week. Not bad for an over-the-hill, middle-aged, gay singer with a checkered past. Now maybe be can tell us what Andrew Ridgely did exactly in Wham!

Next week, Oprah features Stevie Wonder, whose album isn't being released until July 27.

Beyonce, Queen Latifah Get Magazine Covers

Many congrats to the editors of both Harper's Bazaar and Glamour. They each have black women on their covers this month. Queen Latifah is on the May cover of Glamour (I'm a little late mentioning this) and none other than Beyonce — in triplicate no less — is on the Bazaar cover. These were brave decisions considering that Vanity Fair still refuses to put a black person by him-or-herself on its cover. Both landmark Oscar winners Halle Berry and Denzel Washington have not appeared since their 2003 triumphs.

I guess it helps that June is Black Music Month, a special distinction dreamed up by some smart marketing people down in Philadelphia with the influence of famous record producer Kenny Gamble. (Yes, he's the same guy who lost a big royalties lawsuit with singer Billy Paul, but no one's perfect.)

In keeping with Black Music Month, "Good Morning America" is featuring Stevie Wonder next Friday, as well as a big feature piece on him on June 10, the same day Stevie gets the Songwriters Hall of Fame Award.

But a lot of other TV shows seem to be ignoring Black Music Month, which is a shame. It's the one excuse each year for executive producers to bring on jazz, soul and blues greats who don't have videos or multi-platinum albums in the stores.

'Fahrenheit' Prediction Right; Julia's Babies

As I predicted in this space yesterday, Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" will be distributed by a consortium of film companies in this country including Lions Gate, IFC Films and the new Fellowship Adventure Group (a venture of the Weinstein brothers). They've moved the release up a week, though, to June 25... Lots of calls from folks who spotted this reporter in video clips yesterday which were used as "B roll" for the Julia Roberts pregnancy story. Talk about being a 'Zelig' at the right time! Anyway, many congrats to Julia and hubby Danny Moder. Let's hope the paparazzi leaves them alone for the next year! (Yeah, right, but we can dream, can't we?)... Finally, I never did get to mention Clive Davis' lavish party last week high atop the new Gansevoort Hotel for his next monster hit band, Velvet Revolver. I spotted Sean Penn quite late that night, looking as though he could use a nap but still socializing with the best of them. I'm told he was seen the next morning around 8:30 a.m. on the set of "The Interpreter" here in Greenwich Village looking spiffy in an Armani suit and ready to roll. Now, that's dedication and hard work for you!