Apparently they play a mismatched couple who own Chicago property together. With their romance on the rocks, they decide to annoy each other for as long as their shared investment keeps them entangled.
Yep, these are exciting times at Tribune Tower, with the company out to retire 25 percent of its shares in a debt-fueled effort to boost a stock that has lost 40 percent of its value over the last two years or so.
While Tribune was finally getting around to jabbing the Chandler family's opposition to the buyback plan, issuing a statement Thursday noting the majority of the board believe the repurchase is "in the best interests of all shareholders," with "all" underlined for emphasis, everyone was buzzing about a report Tribune has been thinking about spinning off its broadcasting group and maybe selling the rest of the company, which includes this paper.
The Wall Street Journal pegged this spinoff talk to January. But the idea has been around longer, as Tribune, like other traditional media outfits, struggles to come up with a way to combat investor skepticism about the industry's growth potential.
Early last fall, though few know it, the part of Viacom that was on its way to becoming CBS Corp. had what sources close to the situation describe as "preliminary" talks about whether CBS might be interested in Tribune's broadcast properties.
Spokesmen for CBS and Tribune declined to comment on this.
The deal made sense on a lot of levels. But the strategic discussions were superseded by the creation of The CW Network, announced this year, the sources said. CBS agreed to close its secondary network, UPN, after convincing Time Warner's Warner Bros. to shutter The WB, the rival mini-network in which Tribune not only owned the core affiliate group but held a 22.5 percent equity stake.
CBS and Warner Bros. are 50-50 partners in The CW, and Tribune was brought into the mix with the new venture a fait accompli, but before it was publicly unveiled. Sixteen of its 19 WB stations signed 10-year affiliate agreements. So CBS was able to get programs on Tribune stations and eliminate the WB as a competitor without having to buy any stations.
Tribune, meanwhile, has announced it is unloading one of its three WB orphans, which wound up aligning with News Corp.'s My Network TV for prime-time programming. It's selling WATL-TV in Atlanta to Gannett Co. for $180 million, its first transaction since announcing the stock buyback.
FitzSimons, in a memo to employees, said WATL was being sold because it "was no longer an integral part of our program buying strategy."
The point is that those "what if" CBS discussions are just the sort of thing referenced in Tribune's tender-offer document when it talks about how the company has and will evaluate "certain strategic alternatives."
The document says these options "may include one or a combination of the following transactions: a sale or exchange of one or more of its [broadcast] stations or other broadcasting or entertainment properties; a merger, consolidation, joint venture or other business combination involving its broadcasting businesses and one or more third parties; a sale of equity or other interests in its broadcasting businesses to one or more third parties; or a distribution to Tribune stockholders of shares of its broadcasting business."
Never mind the tender-offer document also says that, except for shedding at least $500 million in assets, like WATL, to defray some buyback costs, Tribune has "no plans, proposals or negotiations under way that relate to or would result in any extraordinary transaction, such as a merger, reorganization or liquidation" or "any purchase, sale or transfer of an amount of our assets ... which is material to us or our subsidiaries, taken as a whole."
(Catch your breath. Lawyers write that way.)
"I'm sure Dennis figured you roll this [buyback] thing out, everybody applauds, you do the deal, over and done," observed longtime publishing industry analyst Ed Atorino, managing director of Benchmark Co.
That was the scripted ending.
Vaughn and Aniston shot a second ending to "The Break Up" when test audiences rejected the original. FitzSimons may have to do the same.