Picture this: you’re considered the world’s greatest movie actor for a long, long while. Then you realize that’s a fine title but you’re not making enough dough. So you start lampooning the very image you’ve spent a lifetime to create. And in the process you scoop up humongous paydays (even if it does mean your loyal fans turn up their noses in disgust at the schlocky movies you choose to star in…). No matter, you’re rich beyond your wildest dreams. So what do you do for an encore? Well, perhaps you buy a newspaper since you’ve already got the private jet, the fancy women, the Paris home. A new report in New York mag says owner (and also sculptor) Arthur Carter may have finally found a buyer for his New York Observer: the founding trio of the Tribeca Film Festival, Robert De Niro, producer Jane Rosenthal (Meet the Fockers), and her venture-capitalist husband, Craig Hatkoff. The mag says they’re kicking the tires for ad synergy with the film fest sponsors (AmEx, Pepsi, Sony, Nokia, L’Oréal). No one’s commenting officially, but my NYO sources think it’s the closest Carter has come to a real live buyer since Conrad Black (pre-disgrace, of course) wanted to scoop up a society sheet for his wife. Or when Ron Perelman begged to buy the NYO so it would stop making fun of his short self. (Perelman’s people once pleaded with me not to mention the boss’s height challenge in my NYO story about how he loused up in Hollywood; I refused.)

Hallelujah! I couldn’t care less if Tom Delay turned out to be the buyer. Having been the New York Observer‘s West Coast editor and entertainment biz columnist in the prehistoric era (circa 1995-1998), I panic everytime I read that it’s hemorrhaging even more money than it did when I worked there, or that Carter has become even more obsessed with his metalworking art than with his salmon sheet (It’s salmon, not pink.). I even received a few nervy emails the other week from a former NYO pal predicting the paper’s Memorial Weekend demise. But I was assured at the time by my NYO cronies that the physically leaner and financially meaner paper met ex-investment banker Carter’s belt-tightening dictum and would survive even if no buyer were found.

So how might the paper be under a De Niro administration? Not much different to the average eye, I suspect. I am confident, however, that a lot of NYO‘s infamous snarkiness would disappear. But, in truth, that ‘tude already was toned down considerably post-9/11 (editors there told me it was unseemly after the tragedy in their backyard) and it hasn’t really come back as forcefully as pre-9/11. Still, it should be said that Carter’s best quality as a newspaper owner is that he doesn’t give a damn about who or what his editors and writers piss off. In fact, there’s something unique about Carter, especially in this journalism-as-press-release period, because I swear he actually likes it when his paper gives rich people (even though he himself is one) a terrible, terrible time. I’ll miss that.