Sony’s film and television groups have not had a harmonious relationship, and it has been further exacerbated by the recent hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment, linked to the Sony feature The Interview.
For the most part, television has been taking a back seat at SPE, viewed primarily as a workhorse contributing to the bottom line, even after SPE CEO Michael Lynton announced a year ago that the company will make “a significant shift in emphasis from motion pictures to higher-margin television.”
Despite television’s increasing importance and status as a cash cow, SPE is run by film executives, Lynton and Co-Chairman Amy Pascal, with major decisions that impact the television part of the company sometimes made unilaterally, without conferring with TV executives.
There had been rumblings about friction between the film and TV leadership, and we saw a glimpse of that in the leaked emails of top SPE executives, including Lynton, Pascal and SPT President Steve Mosko.
There was a cancelled dinner and a heated email from Mosko in February over a series of newspaper stories, in which Pascal appeared to be taking credit for running Sony’s TV business. Pascal’s now-infamous “black baby” comment was in response to a July email by Mosko, in which he expressed frustration over the film unit’s decision to announce a television deal with major talent without informing their TV colleagues. “Once again, this will cause major confusion in the television group because (he) has never talked to me or anyone else in our group and I will have to be on the defensive with my own team and not sure what to say to outside world,” Radar quoted him as saying.
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That leads us to another decision made unilaterally by Lynton and Pascal that has had a major impact on the television side of the company: the move to greenlight comedy feature The Interview, featuring the graphic “assassination” of current North Korea leader Kim Jong-un.
Just like their feature colleagues, SPT employees had their personal records hacked, left scrambling to protect their identity and social security/credit card information. Also stolen and put on the Internet was confidential information on off-network sales and other SPT deals that may hurt the company’s competitiveness in feature negotiations and an unreleased script of its hit drama Breaking Bad among other proprietary content.
While Sony’s film staff seem to have been selectively targeted by hackers’ disturbing emails, TV employees were not immune to the messages that suggested possible physical harm to Sony employees and their families in retaliation for the movie’s release.
Since the very first days of the hacking scandal, there had been a strong sentiment in the TV circles at Sony to pull The Interview, with most television staffers supporting such a move.
As weeks went by, with SPE’s leadership standing by the movie as hackers’ threats grew more brazen, the resentment among Sony’s TV constituency also grew. In private conversations, some of them express anger at being dragged into a controversy they had no part in.
Despite the growing discontent, SPT staffers have proceeded with their daily work, keeping the trains on time amid the major distraction from the hack attack that reportedly brought other divisions of the company to a standstill. Episodes of 8 primetime series, including The Blacklist, The Goldbergs, Marry Me and Community, filmed as scheduled over the past three weeks, along with episodes of SPT’s daytime dramas Days Of Our Lives and The Young And The Restless, and game shows Wheel Of Fortune and Jeopardy. Deals were closed and announced, including the acquisition of Australia’s Playmaker Media and international sales for Marry Me and The Goldbergs.
Following Sony’s decision today to finally shelve The Interview after all major theater chains pulled out, the storm surrounding the unprecedented hacking will eventually pass. But its impact within the company will likely be felt for a long time. The rift between Sony’s film and TV operations now runs so deep, SPE’s (possibly new) leadership will have to work hard to repair it.
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