Tyler Perry and Tom Cruise

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Tom Cruise, Pluto and Hollywood’s entrenched system for getting TV comedies on the air all took a beating this past week. While the first two got most of the ink, my theory is the latter could have the most lasting implications.

But how could the tale of a little-known producer-writer-director like Tyler Perry, whose groundbreaking deal to get a TV sitcom called House of Payne on the air and potentially pocket more than $150 million in the process, compare to the demise of Pluto or Cruise’s once mighty standing at Paramount?

You be the judge.

With two low-budget sleeper film hits to his credit in recent years, Diary of a Mad Black Woman and Madea's Family Reunion, Perry has now made it a hat trick with his first TV series, House of Payne. Not only does he own the show outright, unheard of in today’s vertically integrated Hollywood studio system controlled by a handful of massive conglomerates (including Cruise-basher Sumner Redstone’s CBS), but Perry will produce most of the 100 episodes before they even make it onto TBS’ prime time schedule next June.And he will do it at half the cost of other sitcoms, since he’s making them at his non-union Atlanta studio. By the time they all go into syndication in fall 1998, Perry wants to have all 100 wrapped, with his distributor,Debmar-Mercury, selling the commercial time.

Maybe Redstone should think about replacing Cruise’s production company with one belonging to this smart and talented young guy, who spent $6 million apiece on the movies and made back more than $50 million domestically from each of them. But Perry has no reason to leave his distributor, a small independent called  Lionsgate (the owner of Debmar-Mercury), which unlike Redstone gives its talent and operating units wide autonomy to make it loads of money.

Cruise, meanwhile, is getting $100 million in outside financing from lenders, who naturally will want to see a decent return on their investments. But that’s far from being a certainty now that he has gone from an adored superstar to a middle-aged, couch-jumping, Scientology-preaching, Brooke Shields-bashing ogre on the perception charts.

I’ve often thought that uberpublicist Pat Kingsley, who kept Cruise in check for years until he unceremoniously dumped her and hired his sister, must be struggling to contain her glee each time her once-stellar client’s career slips another self-destructive notch down the totem poll—just like a mass ofrock and hot gases formerly known as the Planet Pluto.

By Jim Benson

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