Some thoughts on “Broken Deal”, this week’s riveting Tribune series on Sam Zell’s buyout of Tribune Company in 2007, and on the bankruptcy that soon followed and from which the battered company didn’t emerge until last December. The yarn told by Michael Oneal and Steve Mills deserves to be expanded into a book, of course, but as I read I kept thinking, HBO series.
HBO for the vulgarity—”You know, shit happens, OK,” said Zell to a Wall Street audience he was sucking into his caper. “So anything is possible.” But in the pages of the Tribune business section, ONeal and Mills couldn’t say shit—and lasciviousness.
“Broken Deal” didn’t get into personalities much, though personalities left scars that won’t soon fade from the souls of the Tribune Company rank and file who lived through the era. A book will make room, and HBO will revel in them. For instance, it can introduce Zell at the 1999 birthday party he threw for himself in the Aragon Ballroom. Cops closed the Lawrence el station to accommodate Zell’s private trains, and Redmoon Theater provided strolling musicians and masked actors dressed as birds on stilts. The writer Joy Bergman, who hooked on with Redmoon to get inside, later described the scene to me: