The New York Times exploded with a Page One story for Monday about Brad Grey’s alleged ties to Anthony Pellicano, target of that heated-up U.S. Attorney wiretapping investigation and catalyst for the breaking and increasingly broad scandal rocking Hollywood and L.A.’s high-profile legal community. It didn’t go up on the NYT website until 7:30 p.m. PT. I reported its existence at 4:44 p.m. PT. (Truth: Unknown to the reporters, I’d followed their progress for 3 weeks; given that it was such a highly competitive beat, I didn’t disclose their topic because I felt they deserved their scoop.) It almost doesn’t matter what the article said; just the fact that the sitting chairman and chief executive of the Paramount Motion Picture Group has now been dramatically linked by name to Pellicano was a huge shock for Hollywood. Forget Blackberrys: phones were ringing on both coasts as major players gasped with their pals — first at the news of the article’s existence, then about the story’s prominent placement. That’s because, in Tinseltown, perception has always been more important than reality. After all, the NYT reporting duo of Allison Weiner and David Halbfinger had already published big news breaks about Michael Ovitz’s and Bert Fields’ connections to the case. As one Pelican flap insider told me: “The missing piece right now is not Ovitz or Fields. Ovitz is yesterday’s news, and Bert is a 78-year-old lawyer. It’s Brad, especially since he’s a recently appointed studio boss.” So the Industry chatter post-NYT story focused on: How is this going to play with Grey’s bosses Tom Freston and Sumner Redstone? Can Brad do his job if he becomes the focus of the feds? Who at Dreamworks will step into his place? (This latter question is very much typical of the Industry types’ lame attempt at humor.)
This is what I know about the behind-the-scenes of it all:
The NYT couldn’t have written any story about Brad Grey without Linda Doucett. Fans of the old HBO series The Larry Sanders Show will remember her for several reasons: the former model played busty blonde secretary Darlene Chapinni, she was star Garry Shandling’s real-life girlfriend; she was fired when they broke up; and she filed two lawsuits against him, Grey and the show. At the time, Shandling was an important client of Grey and his major talent management and production company (which also put together and ran the Sanders series). That is, until the two men fell out in a long and nasty legal wrangle over Shandling’s charges of conflict-of-interest against Grey.
Fast forward: suddenly, Doucett a few weeks ago finds herself the object of desire by the N.Y. Times. The reason is that paper turned again to Frontline correspondent Lowell Bergman to pump up the Pellicano volume. (Bergman is a name recognizable from Michael Mann’s The Insider. Al Pacino portayed him as a producer, then on contract to 60 Minutes, caught in the buzz saw when CBS buckled to corporate pressure and yanked his Big Tobacco story from whistleblower Russell Crowe.) Bergman had been the bigfoot brought in by the NYT back in 2003 when the Pelican briefs first broke. But, the probe dragged on without indictments, and Bergman eventually returned to more newsy matters. Now he was back on the case, and he recalled a two-year-old tip from a prominent Hollywood player that Doucett would be a font of information if she would cooperate. Big if. Especially because the FBI was trying to keep everyone quiet who’d been told that they’d been targeted by Pellicano. Both she and Shandling and some of their friends and associates were said to have been victims of The Pelican’s wiretapping, unauthorized police background checks, the works.
The NYT tries to corral her. She keeps her distance. Life’s been hard for her. The talented comedienne’s promising showbiz career was DOA after her lawsuits. Finally, after much soothing and schmoozing, the NYT‘s Weiner and Halbfinger two weeks ago sit down with Doucett for an interview. The reporters come very prepared: they have court transcripts and legal depositions from the previous lawsuits involving Doucett (both were settled) but also the battle between Shandling and Grey over The Larry Sanders Show et al. See, by the time of that legal war, Shandling and Doucett had made up and become friends again, so Doucett was privy to inside information about Shandling’s side of the case since Garry was confiding in her.
Reading over the NYT article on Grey, I’m frankly surprised that it doesn’t go farther. There are salient details I know that aren’t in the piece. For instance, I was told last month by a source who used to work for Grey’s management and production company that Brad had long and close ties to Pellicano, longer and closer than anyone thought. (But Grey issued a statement to the NYT that he was “casually acquainted” with Pellicano and had “no ‘relationship'” until the PI was hired by Fields in the Shandling lawsuit.) Also, a prominent Hollywood type told me that before he was going to be a witness for Shandling against Grey, he, too, was approached by Brad. “Brad was very worried about my testimony. I hadn’t heard from him in ages. Now, suddenly, he’s being very buddy-buddy with me.” And my sources tell me that, when Doucett after meeting with the FBI received that phone call from a man threatening her son, authorities took it very seriously. She was able to identify one voice who turned out to be a biker with a criminal record.
Yes, Grey has been interviewed by the FBI, yes he’s testified before the grand jury investigating Pellicano. But so have other Hollywood figures. Is he or is he not a subject of the investigation? Is there or is there not Pellicano tape of him? Did he or did he not sign something before he could get the Paramount job saying he had no knowledge of Pellicano’s wiretapping? If you’re going to name Grey, then tell us more. It’s not enough just to rehash what a sleazeball Brad is (and is he ever, in Doucett’s account.) Either Brad is squeaky clean, and it’s just unfortunate his name is being bandied about, or else he’s up to his eyeballs in it, or else the truth lies somewhere inbetween. No matter which, he’s compromised now, at least in journalists’ eyes, possibly in The Industry’s eyes from this point forward.
The NYT goes almost too inside the Doucett-Shandling-Grey relationship, clearly a dysfunctional one from both personal and professional perspectives, that it loses sight of the ultimate story: the Pellicano scandal. Reading about all the Hollywood deal-making, deal-breaking and dollars that took place among them makes any sane person want to throw up their hands and shout, “A pox on all their houses.” Doucett told the NYT she sees the entire mess as being about “little people being pushed around.” I chalk it up to greed and the way that emboldens Hollywood to push past boundaries of common decency, even legally.
Previously tonight, I reported:
I’m told The New York Times has finally finished an investigative piece about Brad Grey’s alleged ties to Anthony Pellicano and the progress of the U.S. attorney’s investigation of them. Sources tell me it will be a shocking article about the sitting chairman and chief executive of the Paramount Motion Picture Group and that it will be published Monday on Page One. I’m told integral information for the piece by the reporting duo of Allison Weiner and David Halbfinger came about two weeks ago when, after a long pursuit, they finally secured an interview with Linda Doucett, the former girlfriend of Garry Shandling. Shandling was an important client of Grey’s long-held talent management and production company until the two men fell out in a long legal wrangle. Both Doucett and Shandling are said to have been victims of Pellicano’s wiretapping. The NYT article puts the reporting duo well ahead of the Los Angeles Times on this breaking and increasingly broad scandal rocking Hollywood as well as L.A.’s high-profile legal community. While LAT reporters to date have taken a typically all-encompassing but general look at the case, the NYT’s Weiner and Halbfinger have published big news breaks about Michael Ovitz’s and Bert Field’s connections with it. There’s no doubt this article on Grey, however, will rock Hollywood to its core. The whispers surrounding him reached a crescendo over Oscar weekend. I myself was told last month by a source who used to work for Grey’s management and production company that Grey had close ties to Pellicano, closer than anyone thought. Sunday night should have been a triumph for Grey as the executive producer of the long-awaited series, The Sopranos. But will the bad news for Brad by Monday be that his own Tony Soprano, in the form of Anthony Pellicano, is haunting him?