Barry Diller became a legend in the entertainment business through top jobs at ABC, Paramount, and Fox.Now the head of IAC — the parent company of Serious Eats and The Daily Beast, among many others — the media mogul shared his thoughts about the evolving nature of the industry in part one of his conversation with host Kim Masters.
In this second part of their discussion, Diller weighs in on embattled producer Scott Rudin, and what he sees as the challenges within Hollywood’s cancel culture.
Rudin has been a longtime Diller associate — he worked briefly as an executive at Fox in the mid-1980s when Diller was chairman of the studio.
Diller left Hollywood in 1992 and became a billionaire as head of IAC. Rudin became an EGOT — one of the few winners of an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony.
In recent years, Diller and IAC have financed Rudin’s movies, including “Uncut Gems,” “Eighth Grade,” and “Lady Bird.” Diller and Rudin have also produced shows on Broadway, including “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Carousel,” and the upcoming revival of “The Music Man.”
But following an April cover story in The Hollywood Reporter about allegations of workplace abuse, Rudin has stepped away from “The Music Man,” as well as upcoming film projects.
It was hardly news within the industry that working for Rudin meant enduring grueling hours and dealing with fits of rage — alleged verbal abuse, and in at least one case, physical assault. But the culture has been changing, and The Hollywood Reporter article put the allegations on the record. In the weeks that followed, more former assistants spoke out in other publications and on The Business.
When Masters asked Diller about his reaction to the Rudin story, he offered an unusually emotional take on Hollywood’s cancel culture reckoning.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
KCRW: Producer and executive Larry Gordon, who used to work for you, recently said to me, “I am really glad I'm not in this business so much anymore because my temper is too bad, and I would be just decimated by the culture right now. I would not be tolerated.” What do you think about that? You have staunchly defended Scott Rudin, and you were a tough guy in your own right.
Barry Diller: “I've been very clear. I said I don't condone extreme behavior in any way. And I don't believe I've ever participated in such behavior. Have I been difficult? Have I been noisy? Have I been always wanting to push for creative conflict because I think that's a healthy atmosphere for those that enjoy it? Absolutely.
But I think there is a difference between that and what we would call personal abusive behavior. And that I think is not tolerable. Larry Gordon, you could scream and go back and forth with him. I mean, to watch Michael Eisner and Larry Gordon have arguments was joyful because it was just so funny.”
“Have I been difficult? Have I been noisy? Have I been always wanting to push for creative conflict, because I think that's a healthy atmosphere for those that enjoy it? Absolutely. But there is a difference between that and personal abusive behavior. And that is not tolerable.”
I'm not suggesting that Larry was actually an abuser in that way. He's just a hot tempered man.
“I think we mix that. And I think there's less tolerance for what I would call healthy, creative conflict than before. That's the culture right now. I think that there is an end result price paid for that. There's also a thing where these are tough businesses, and they require tough-minded people to really succeed. I think it's probably true in most things, but it's certainly true in media businesses. And I don't think we should mistake tough-mindedness, tough acting — not without empathy or not without rationality — or loud argument for being something bad.”
Having said that, a lot of people have spoken out about Scott Rudin, including on this show, but you’ve stood your ground. I think you said you hadn't seen it, you didn't believe it.
“I've had arguments with Scott. Everybody has had arguments. How could you not, in this business? I never heard him yell at anyone. I never saw him abuse anyone. There was some recent reportage on this that said I was on a telephone call with Mr. Rudin and his assistant, where Mr. Rudin called the police while I listened to get this person. ... I don't know, whatever. I was on no such call. It never happened. So I can only tell you my own experience.”
But you come to the table very literally with billions of dollars at a time when Scott needs money to finance plays and other projects. He’s not yelling at you.
“I've been involved with Scott on the ground in dozens of films, television, things, Broadway things, with lots of people, not just me, people who he didn't have anything like the relationship he needed to have with me because I was a financier, where he was [not] anything but creatively stimulating. Always about the work itself, more about the work itself than almost anyone else I'd ever seen. And I never heard him act inappropriately. That is my experience.
And it wasn't just with me. That's all I can speak to. I can't speak to anything else. If in fact, it is true, that he was abusive to people in his office, I never participated in it. I do not condone it. And if it was true, I would hope that he would find a way, as has been suggested, to deal with that and reenter the business, because he's too valuable a resource to not be in the business unless his behavior in the future would be heinous.”
“If [allegations were] true, I would hope that Rudin would find a way to deal with that and reenter the business, because he's too valuable a resource to not be in the business unless his behavior in the future would be heinous.”
So you will continue to work with him right now?
“Excuse me. There is no work with Scott right now. It's not ambiguous, because I'm involved in it and it's very clear he has withdrawn.”
Do you know anything about what he's doing to try to make this right?
“No, I don't know, and I hope he finds a path to it. There's been noise, but there's been relatively few — relatively meaning less than 15 or something — specifics. If they're true, I hope he finds a way to work through it and come out educated. I don't know that that's true. And I don't have any information about anything else.”
New York Magazine alone had 33 people talking. It's a lot.
“This is the thing, I don't know. Thirty-three people? Did they have 33 direct instances of specific behavior? I don't think so.”
I think 33 people addressed his behavior. This has been Scott's reputation for years and years. It makes me wonder what's going on here.
“I knew of his reputation, too, for being very difficult in his office. And certainly having a lot of controversy with the people he dealt with. Controversy meaning they didn't reach agreement, it came to a bad end, or this or that happened. I'm not talking about that.
I'm talking about the kind of personal abusive behavior of which relatively few have been cited. If there are more, I just haven't heard them. I do know about the reputation in his office. Everybody knows about that. He is a controversial character, always has been, because he's so much about the work and so invested in it. And it probably has gotten to extremes that are not tolerable. So that's all. I don't know anymore.”
But there are things that aren't witnessed by the world that sometimes end up with people facing very dire consequences. Right?
“That is true. But for that, as in some of these other cases, there was a trial. Harvey Weinstein is in jail.”
That’s what I’m referencing. It raises the question of: How many allegations do you need, and what crosses the line?
“My point is only this: Harvey Weinstein went through a trial and was found guilty. One presumes a fair trial, etc. That is different than allegations, made often by people who will not say who they are. Sometimes they do, whatever. But those allegations should be followed up and tested in some arena that is fair. And if, in fact, the verdict is guilty or whatever, good and fine. But often, as we know, that does not happen.”
But in what forum? Rudin doesn't work for a studio. He's an independent player.
“I don't know what forum, to be honest with you. I just think due process of some kind is important. I think cancel culture, as a generic pervasive [where] you are basically canceled on accusation, is very dubious and unfortunate. I just want more due process. … Proportionality should be part of it. Without that, I think it's a bad culture in business.”
“I think cancel culture, as a generic pervasive [where] you are basically canceled on accusation, is very dubious and unfortunate. I just want more due process. Proportionality should be part of it. Without that, I think it's a bad culture in business.”
Journalists can't publish without vetting. And all of the major times these stories have come out, it’s been done in the media because we don't have another forum.
“I'm not talking about what you publish. I'm talking about the consequences of a culture that cancels based upon what is published without due process or, sometimes, proportionality. That's all. That is the line I'm drawing, nothing else. If there's publishable material, go at it. But the consequences of it today … we don’t have a mechanism to [adjudicate that]. But we do have a mechanism for saying, ‘Let's deal sometimes with proportionality.’ Should people receive essentially the death penalty, meaning they simply can't work anymore?”
It depends on what they did and how documented it is. That’s the short answer, right?
“We certainly have the death penalty — and I'm not talking literally — but we certainly know Harvey Weinstein is not working again. He's probably not getting out of prison. But contrast that with behavior that goes all the way up the extreme to other people who did not do anything ‘illegal’ or prosecutable, who can't work because of this or that?”
Do you think Rudin can make a comeback? Do you think that talent will work with him?
“I'm saying that depending upon what the facts are, and if they are not over the line, meaning they're not heinous acts and not throwing somebody out of a moving car—”
But that's one of the allegations.
“But Scott has said it never happened. He said, ‘What I did is pull my car over and say, ‘Get out of the car.’ There is a big difference there. Anyway, all I'm saying is that if that is true, and if he wants to come back — I don't know that he does, and I'm not talking to him directly about this, or I wouldn't speak of it at all — but if he wants to and there is a path and he explains his history, and it stands up and all of that, and he explains what's happened, I would hope so.”