Johnnie L.

Stories by Johnnie L. Roberts

  • A Tough Season

    It was supposed to have been another buoyant night for Dick Ebersol. The chairman of NBC Sports had settled into the cramped production trailer outside the Coliseum in L.A. on a recent Saturday to watch a raucous game of XFL football, the league he had launched with the World Wrestling Federation. The XFL's debut the previous week had been a ratings smash. Ebersol knew it would be tough to match that showing, when many tuned in to see, as he says, "if we would have naked cheerleaders running around with chairs to break over the heads of referees." Still, he was pumped. The XFL game would be followed by "Saturday Night Live," guest-starring the white-hot Jennifer Lopez. ...
  • Megawatt Mogulfest

    Talk about a chance encounter. It was a megawatt group of Masters of the Media Universe, and what they might have been plotting is anybody's guess. In any case, there they were-AOL Time Warner's chairman Steve Case, CEO Jerry Levin, the company's co-chief operating officer Richard Parson and Chief Financial Officer Mike Kelly-assembled all at once in the 29th-floor executive sanctum of the world's media behemoth.Nothing unusual there, except maybe that Case had ventured up to the newly combined AOL Time Warner's New York head quarters from Dulles, Va., where he has elected to keep his office.No, the noteworthy aspect of this Feb. 7 gathering lay in the identity of the guest they'd just finished meeting with: none other than the King of Media Dealmakers, Liberty Media boss John Malone.This mogulfest has lots of potentially monumental media stuff to discuss-megasize assets to split up, subdivide or cobble together-as well an array of friends and foes to conspire with and against.This...
  • All For One, One For Aol

    Last summer, months before the Federal Trade Commission approved America Online's $110 billion merger with Time Warner, a new arrival at the Manhattan headquarters of the world's largest media and entertainment company had executives there buzzing. Robert Pittman, AOL's president, had quietly moved into a 32d-floor office at Time Warner'sRockefeller Center digs. Around the same time, AOL subscribers were greeted by an offer to buy Sports Illustrated, a Time Warner title, as they logged on to the nation's biggest Internet service provider. The two companies held a joint board meeting in Atlanta last summer, and the directors even attended a ball game played by the Time Warner-owned Atlanta Braves. And Time Warner employees are already enjoying a new perk: free access to AOL.Were they jumping the gun? When the Dec. 13 FTC approval was announced at a news conference in Washington, D.C., it seemed as though the deal had squeaked past hostile regulators. During 11 months of review by the...
  • Mr. Rap Goes To Washington

    The impresario of the hip-hop revolution never seemed interested in politics. He liked casual urban fashions, sleek women and the millions that could be made from tirelessly promoting the edgy new street music called rap. He became an icon of pop culture and inspired a new generation of music-business entrepreneurs from the inner city, where the political issues are fierce. Yet he didn't even bother to vote in recent elections. So what was Russell Simmons--cultivator of star rappers, cofounder of Def Jam Records, owner of homes in New York City and the Hamptons--doing last week with leading political activists in a meeting with that squarest of officials, Attorney General Janet Reno? And wasn't that Simmons up there onstage in Washington last Saturday--the 37th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s historic march on the capital--to exhort a massive gathering of mostly young, mostly black demonstrators against police brutality?The hip-hop generation--a broad, multiracial segment of...
  • Creating Static For Aol

    Few have seen "the video," as Disney's latest production is known around Washington. But what they remember is a truly scary movie: an apocalyptic, though speculative, vision of a combined AOL and Time Warner. With monopoly control over a big chunk of broadband cable--the high-speed interactive cable service now inching across the nation--AOL Time Warner could, the video warns, obstruct rivals' Web and interactive-TV offerings. "Gatekeepers like AOL Time Warner," it predicts, may "force feed" their own new media to captured customers and control the converging worlds of TV, the Net and computers.AOL Time Warner executives are unamused by the video, part of Disney's militant lobbying against the merger. Apparently at least one Disney employee sympathizes with them. Someone identifying himself only as "Mickey" (Mouse?) mailed an early version of the video to AOL. He also faxed a copy of the video script, which apparently emanated from "Good Morning America," owned by Disney's ABC...
  • Edgar's Exit Strategy

    If Seagram CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr. ever sweated, he was cool enough to do it in private. Since the mid-1990s, the part-time songwriter labored to turn his family's booze empire into a global entertainment giant. First, he invested in Time Warner, then acquired Universal Studios and finally gobbled up PolyGram, the world's largest music company--for a total investment of $19 billion. But Time Warner denied him a board seat and Universal released a string of box-office bombs. Lately such Internet buccaneers as Napster have threatened the music business, and Bronfman's rivals, especially the looming behemoth AOL Time Warner, have cast an ominous shadow over his company.As the temperature was rising outside the company, things were also getting uncomfortable on the inside for Bronfman, whose family owns 24 percent of Seagram. His Uncle Charles had agreed to his nephew's Hollywood incursion out of family loyalty, but afterward he sold part of his Seagram stake. His sale was widely seen as...
  • As Ted's World Turns

    Ted Turner was basking in the world's attention. Much of the globe, it seemed, turned out last week to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his genius invention, CNN, the 24-hour cable-news channel. CNN journalists from 130 countries mingled with such CNN household-name stars as Bernard Shaw and Larry King at the cable channel's Atlanta headquarters. Vladimir Putin beamed in via satellite from Moscow for the weeklong affair. Al Gore, George W. Bush and Jordan's King Abdullah dropped by. Former president Jimmy Carter addressed the gathering as Turner sat with U.N. chief Kofi Annan.It was a rare peaceful moment for Turner, one of the world's most mercurial billionaires. Always a favorite of gossip connoisseurs, Turner, who separated from his wife, Jane Fonda, in January, has made headlines recently with his dating antics. In recent weeks, New York tabloids had Turner paired off with a 28-year-old New York college professor. Although the woman seemed to confirm the dalliance, the tabloids...
  • Bmg: Behind The Music

    After starting slowly, the party pulsates into the wee hours in the presidential suite at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Music honchos dance between the staid furnishings. Suddenly, Pink, a hot young hip-hop singer, leaps onto an end table and bursts into her funky debut hit. The revelers, the top brass of Bertelsmann Music Group, lustily belt out the chorus, "There you go," which is also the song's title and a refrain that disses a loser boyfriend. BMG's reserved chief executive, Strauss Zelnick, gamely joins in.The 43-year-old Zelnick, who became one of the world's top music bosses 20 months ago, wants to cultivate a cooler image. He was little known outside showbiz circles until his name surfaced late last year in two messy music-industry squabbles, one involving 'N Sync, the other Arista Records boss Clive Davis. Last week he surfaced again, this time to formally name Antonio (LA) Reid as Davis's successor. It's all in a frenetic day's work for Zelnick, the man who must steer BMG,...
  • A Fresh Face At Arista Records

    For all of their fame, neither Ringo Starr, Buddy Rich nor any other percussionist has ever soared as high in the music business as Antonio (LA) Reid, a onetime drummer in a soul band. On July 1, Reid becomes CEO of Arista Records, one of the music industry's legendary labels and home to such global superstars as Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston and Santana. He succeeds Clive Davis, the industry icon who 25 years ago founded Arista, which is now a unit of BMG.It's more than a corporate reshuffling: Reid's appointment strikes a historic note. At 42, Reid, cofounder of the boutique label LaFace, is now one of the highest-ranking black executives in the music business--and one of the few African-Americans to hurdle the industry's notorious racial divide. While black artists always have played integral roles in the U.S. music industry, few have made it into the executive suites. "Here we have a young black executive, who's also a musician, now running this major company," says Kenneth ...
  • For Sale By Owner?

    Tall, lean and confident, Seagram CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr. bounds onto a ballroom stage at the Sheraton Hotel in New York last week. Although he has a cold, he's there to deliver a speech on the prospects of the music business in the wired world. He begins on a contrite note. Regrettably, his cold-wracked voice is weakened, the ever-polite Bronfman apologizes. And because he's terribly busy actually running Seagram, he deadpans, "I'm unable to announce today our much-rumored business combination with News Corp., AT&T, Canal Plus, Viacom, Disney, Bertelsmann, Yahoo!, Vivendi, USA Networks, NBC, Sony, Microsoft or any Paul Allen-affiliated company."The audience gets the joke, yet the fate of Seagram is no laughing matter these days for the 44-year-old Bronfman. For weeks he's tried to puncture the rampant speculation that he is peddling Seagram's Universal music, movie and theme-park empire to a Who's Who of new and old media. Bronfman insists he'll be running Seagram "for a long...
  • How To Use A Lifeline

    On a recent Wednesday night Patricia Fili-Krushel, ABC's president, lingers in the monitor-packed control room of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." The contestant, a bearded mathematician, confidently answers question after question, bearing down on the $1 million prize. As host Regis Philbin kibitzes with him, the contestant grows more assured. "This guy is going to take us for a lot of money," the show's lead producer whispers cheerfully to Fili-Krushel. Although the ABC boss needs to get back to her office for a meeting, she can hardly tear herself away. Suddenly, the mathematician is struggling with a question about the U.S. Marines and Tripoli. Fili-Krushel and the others in the control room seem to tense up. Big winners are far better for the show's ratings. When the contestant decides to play it safe and walk away with only $125,000 in winnings, the decision seems to suck the air out of the booth.Fili-Krushel has reason to be riveted: call it the "Millionaire" effect. Rarely...
  • Rap's Unlikely King

    In the lead limo, Lyor Cohen, co-president of Island Def Jam, is the first to notice the ominous noise overhead. A police helicopter hovers above the caravan carrying rapper Jay-Z, one of the label's stars, to a performance at an overflowing Norfolk, Va., nightclub. "You hear the cop-ta?" Cohen says, his accent one part Israeli, one part street.Where a less aggressive entertainment exec might see trouble, Cohen--who climbed to rap's highest levels by relentlessly promoting such artists as Run DMC, DMX and LL Cool J--sees only opportunity. Oblivious to the fact that he is the only white person in sight, Cohen quickly deposits Jay-Z at the club's back door and heads to the front. There he approaches a tense fire marshal who wants the packed club emptied--now. Cohen stalls, arguing that canceling the show could start a riot. Suddenly, inside the club, the crowd roars with approval. Jay-Z has snuck onto the stage and launched into a set. The marshal is apoplectic. The audacious...
  • Desperately Seeking A Deal

    There Were High-Fives All Around After Aol Unveiled Its Plan To Buy Time Warner. But Aol Had Been Eying Other Suitors, And The Deal Was Driven As Much By Fear Of Being Left Out As By Any Shared Vision.
  • Under The Gun

    It would hardly be a happy holiday tale. On the night after Christmas, trouble was stirring around rap mogul Sean (Puffy) Combs and his actress girlfriend Jennifer Lopez. The CEO of Bad Boy Entertainment was supposedly flashing wads of cash inside Manhattan's crowded Club New York--arrogantly tossing it about like confetti. Unimpressed, some patrons confronted him. In a scene straight out of a rap video, one annoyed man reportedly threw a stack of bills at Combs.That's when--to paraphrase a song by rapper Jay-Z, who's facing legal woes of his own--blood began to drip in the club. Combs brandished a gun, and one of his artists, a rapper known as Shyne, drew a 9mm Ruger and opened fire, according to the Manhattan prosecutor. Three bystanders were hit, though none fatally. Moments later, Combs and Lopez fled the club in an SUV, along with a driver and one of the rapper's bodyguards, an ex-convict once imprisoned for shooting at a cop. With police in pursuit, Puffy and company allegedly...
  • The Day The Music Stopped

    Arista CEO Clive Davis may have the sharpest ears in the music industry. For more than a quarter of a century the record executive has been keenly in tune with the nation's musical taste, launching such rock giants as Janis Joplin and Billy Joel. Whitney Houston owes her career to him. He backed Puffy at Bad Boy Entertainment. And this year he resurrected the flagging career of guitar legend Carlos Santana by pairing him with buzzy young singers like Lauryn Hill.But last week Davis, 66, needed to turn his attention to another career--his own. A messy effort by Arista's corporate parent, Bertelsmann Music Group, to bring in new label management left the music industry in an uproar over the perceived shabby treatment of Davis. BMG chief executive Strauss Zelnick has long been worried about Davis's failure to groom a successor. With Davis's Arista contract expiring in June, Zelnick brought the issue to a head in recent weeks by openly courting a protege of Davis's to take over Arista's...
  • Puffy's Crowded Orbit

    On Aug. 24, the nation's record stores were piled high with 1.5 million copies of "Forever," Puff Daddy's second album. Puff, the rap superstar, meticulously primed his fans with a grueling 32-city promotional blitz. He and his brain trust chose the first single, an edgy rap titled "PE2000," to help re-establish the globe-trotting celebrity's street creds. At first, the marketing plan seemed to be working, with "Forever" selling a respectable 205,000 copies the first week. But the CD didn't debut at No. 1; and the following week sales plunged to just 119,000 copies, says industry scorekeeper SoundScan. To help stop the free fall, Puff's team rushed out a second, more radio-friendly single. Finally, last week, with the R&B-flavored tune "Satisfy You" soaring to No. 1, "Forever" yielded its first hit single. That may be a hollow victory, however, since it wasn't able to prop up the album, which slipped to No. 27 on the charts.Yet Puffy's woes as a star may pale beside the unrest...
  • Suing Hollywood's Suits

    The truth is out there. Yet in "The X-Files's" bizarre world of alien invaders, FBI Agent Mulder has yet to find it, even after seven seasons in the starring role in the hit Fox television series. David Duchovny, who stars as Mulder, however, believes he has stumbled upon a disturbing truth about Fox. He claims that the entertainment empire has shortchanged him at least $25 million in profits. Fox, he contends in a lawsuit, cheated him by, among other things, selling "The X-Files" at below market prices to the studio's sibling cable network.Duchovny generally attracts attention for his moody good looks and his heartthrob status. But his high-profile lawsuit is one in a series pitting some of Hollywood's most commercially successful talent--including the creators of "Home Improvement" and producer Steven Bochco ("L.A. Law" and "Hill Street Blues")--against the entertainment giants that control more and more of the Hollywood food chain. While the joke in L.A. is that it's hard to show...
  • She's Out Of Friends

    Young, striking and powerful, Jamie Tarses has embodied the glamorous face of the media business since she was appointed president of ABC Entertainment three years ago. She had invented a new species of television show: souffle-light comedies peopled with stunning young apartment dwellers. She could have easily been a character on "Friends," the hit show she developed in an earlier stint at NBC. At ABC she quickly confirmed her reputation as a hit maker, green-lighting "Dharma & Greg" and "The Practice."Despite her phenomenal success--she was 32 when she got the ABC job--Tarses has been dogged by stories about her volatile workplace behavior all along. She was politically clumsy with her bosses and prone to poor judgment. ABC quickly installed Stu Bloomberg, a seasoned ABC executive, as her boss, undercutting her position. Nights on the town with stars like Matthew Perry made her a gossip-column staple. And those repeated missteps prompted countless rumors of her imminent...
  • Wrestling For Dollars

    In the heat of battle, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, the antihero of the wildly popular World Wrestling Federation, often bellows, "you're a-- is mine!" Soon, fans of professional wrestling can claim a share of his bulky hide. The WWF is leaping from the ring into the arms of the investing public, unveiling plans last week for a stock offering. The WWF hopes to put the squeeze on investors for $172 million, cashing in on the mass appeal of its controversial brand of mayhem. If the issue is priced cheaply, a lot of fans "will be quick to snap it up," says Dave Meltzer, publisher of Wrestling Observer Newsletter. "They will feel like it's an opportunity to get in on the boom."Wrestling, of course, has been a runaway success in recent years. But until now, with the WWF revealing its finances as part of its stock offering, few outsiders would have imagined the company's stunning profits. Since 1997, WWF revenues have swelled to $251.5 million from $81.9 million. Its bottom line has...
  • The Man Behind Rupert's Roll

    Peter Chernin's TV production executives were already in his Twentieth Century Fox office when he arrived for a June 8 meeting. In his affable style, the CEO of Fox Group quickly got down to business. Chernin sought cuts in the $1 billion budget for "Ally McBeal," "Dharma & Greg" and the rest of the record 30 prime-time series the Fox Group produces. "We can't live with these numbers," said the man who wanted the "Titanic" set quickly dismantled after filming, partly so the movie's overspending director couldn't reshoot any more scenes. Just then Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corp. controls Fox, appeared at the office door. "Peter, may I see you outside?" Murdoch asked softly. So close are the two men that the aside could have been about anything. Maybe Murdoch briefed Chernin on how he had spent that day divorcing Anna, his wife of 32 years. Maybe it was to invite Chernin to his wedding 17 days later to Wendi Deng, 32, aboard his yacht in New York Harbor (Chernin came). Or perhaps...
  • Now Playing At The Box Office Up The Dial, I Want

    Couch potatoes are getting restless. Another TV season has ended, marked by the slew of series finales in the past two weeks. Now television goes on summer break, filling time with tired reruns. And don't look for a lively fall, judging from the lineups recently unveiled by the broadcast networks--just lots of teen-show clones, plus SOS (same old sitcoms). Think a monkey could create a better TV schedule? Further up the cable-TV dial, that's just what you'll see. Next week TBS premieres "The Chimp Channel," a series featuring monkeys who run a TV station. "Summer's boldest move," applauds Mediaweek. TNT, a TBS sibling, is also betting big on animals. In October, it airs "Animal Farm," a $22 million production of the George Orwell classic. ...
  • Cable-Hungry Ma Bell Turns Hostile

    Reach out and bear-hug someone. If there was any lingering doubt that Ma Bell is undergoing a dramatic makeover, it should have been dispelled by a startling move last Thursday. AT&T's CEO, Michael Armstrong, mailed a hostile $58 billion cash-and-stock offer late that day to MediaOne, a cable-television giant already at the altar after a $48 billion proposal from Comcast Inc. in March. In only 17 months at AT&T's helm, Armstrong has launched two huge bids for cable companies. This year he completed the first, the $48 billion purchase of Tele-Communications Inc., the No. 2 cable operator.Why the frenzy? In the last two years, cable's coaxial pipeline has emerged as the communications highway of choice for everything from Internet connections to phone calls to, of course, television programming. AT&T reportedly had been studying a takeover of MediaOne when Comcast swooped down with its deal. That was when AT&T decided to try to disconnect its call.
  • Out Of The Box

    The top executives at ABC had flown out to Aspen to meet with their boss, Disney CEO Michael Eisner. A key item on the agenda: reviewing their plans for the network in the world of new media. They told Eisner about how ABCnews.com had grown, and about how ESPN, ABC's cable-sports empire, had become a hot cyberspace destination. They talked about synchronizing the upcoming Oscars broadcast with Oscars activities on the Web. But while they didn't know it then, the most telling demonstration of the network's leap into cyberspace was taking place as they were eating dinner at Eisner's mountainside vacation home on March 3. As the participants plowed through a buffet, they watched Barbara Walters's interview with Monica Lewinsky, along with the 70 million other viewers who tuned in at one time or another. And of those viewers, 1.5 million also logged on to the ABC.com Web site to fish for more dish on the scandal, vote in a poll or demand to know the shade of Monica's lipstick. It all...
  • Cable's Quiet Mogul

    Brian Roberts began tagging along with his father on Saturdays to the family cable-television business, Comcast Inc., when he was 8, almost 32 years ago. But he didn't fully grasp cable's powerful appeal until many years later when his dad, Ralph, packed him off to help run the Comcast system in Flint, Mich. Although one of every five Flint residents was jobless, customers kept signing up for Comcast's 35 channels. "It taught me that cable was recession-proof," Roberts, now Comcast's president, recalls.His appreciation of the power of cable became monumentally evident last week. In a deal eclipsing even AT&T's purchase of cable giant Tele-Communications Inc., Philadelphia-based Comcast sealed a $60 billion agreement to buy MediaOne. The combination will create the second largest cable operator, with $8 billion in annual revenue and 11 million subscribers. Comcast also gets MediaOne's 25 percent stake in Time Warner's HBO and Warner Bros. studio, to add to its majority stake in...
  • The Rap On Rap

    HERE'S A TALE OF ONE RECORD label. When Def Jam was founded 15 years ago, rap was an inventive new sound from black urban America. To the captains of the music industry, it was an inner-city fad with limited appeal--but just in case, they would keep an eye on it by buying chunks of the brassy production house. Over the ensuing half-generation, the label managed to turn out stars like LL Cool J, Public Enemy and, briefly, the Beastie Boys, rap's first white group. Now Russell Simmons, its chairman and a pioneering rap impresario, has arrived at a momentous point. He and a few insiders are poised to sell their remaining 40 percent interest in Def Jam. ...
  • America In The Balance

    Day two of the November trial brought promising news. On a pay phone just outside a federal courtroom in New York, lawyers for PolyGram called Alain Levy, CEO of the global entertainment empire. At last, serious settlement talks were underway to en d the heated donnybrook among PolyGram and its Island Records company; the label's top black executive; its hot-selling R&B quartet, Dru Hill, and the group's managers. What a mess it had all become--allegations of violence, a clumsy racial slur by PolyG ram's U.S. president, Jesse Jackson's wrath raining down on the company. ...
  • Can Mgm Roar Again?

    IT WAS EARLY ON OCT. 13. MGM/UA'S top bosses were preoccupied with plans to sell a chunk of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc., the moribund studio's parent, to the public. Suddenly a bombshell dropped. Bond, James Bond--Agent 007 in 20 films, 18 by MGM/UA, with a box office topping $1 billion--had been ambushed. Sony Pictures had just announced plans for Sony Bond movies. A celluloid double agent! Just as MGM was about to tout the debonair, martini-sipping Bond to investors as one of its most valuable, one-of-a-kind assets.After eleventh-hour maneuverings, MGM last week squeezed the offering through shaky financial markets, netting just $250 million--about the cost of one out-of-control movie production. In today's Hollywood moviemaking is for the fearless rich or the certifiably insane. Costs are soaring; profits are mostly nil. At Time Warner and the other behemoths that dominate entertainment, theme parks, cable networks and retail chains fatten the bottom line, not movies. At MGM the...
  • Grabbing At A Dead Star

    RAP STAR TUPAC SHAKUR'S ASHES had hardly cooled before the gold rush began. Now, almost a year after his death, his mother is defending the estate from an old lover who turned up to prove he's Topaz's father. An Arkansas court has already awarded $16.6 million to a woman who was shot at a Topaz concert. Until a tentative settlement last week, Topaz's label, Death Row Records, was demanding a $7 million slice, and its imprisoned CEO wanted millions more. Even C. Delores Tucker, the gangster rap foe, wants a chunk. She and her husband claim that a lyrical attack by Tupac iced their sex life. ""It's like being on a ship and watching pirates trying to loot it,'' says attorney Richard Fischbein, who administers the estate with Tupac's mother, Afeni Shakur. ...
  • Hit The Eject Button

    AMONG ARGENTINES, THE late First Lady Eva Peron stirred heated emotions. Now the marketing of ""Evita,'' Hollywood's video-bound take on her life, is stoking long-simmering tensions in the U.S. home-video business. The industry hot zone is your family room, where movie-viewing options are multiplying. As a result, the local video store is heatedly demanding a longer exclusive on movies before they appear in rival formats. And ""Evita'' the video, which Walt Disney Home Video will release this week, has become the latest flash point. Blockbuster, though it won't say so openly, is halving what would have been its optimum order of ""Evita.'' It's retaliation against Disney for granting video dealers only a 30-day exclusive ""window'' in which to rent the video before the movie becomes available on pay-per-view - about half the typical run. ...
  • Rupert's Team

    Rupert Murdoch wears many hats: billionaire, media baron, TV and cable impresario. Now he's building a global sports empire - making deals at a feverish pace and, as is his wont, paying top dollar for the jewels that catch his eye. ...
  • Farewell, Pretoria

    WHEN PEPSI RETURNED TO POST-partheid South Africa, it arrived pop diva Whitney Houston. late 1994, Pepsi cosponsored her charity tour. But the bigger news, which Pepsi Co gleefully trumpeted, was that Houston was a new ally in its global cola wars with Coca-Cola; she had invested in a new venture to reintroduce Pepsi to South Africa. Pepsi had withdrawn from South Africa in 1985 in protest of its racist policies, to the delight of African-Americans and antiapartheid activists. With Houston in its camp, Pepsi was now casting itself as "the choice of the new generation of South Africans." But it wasn't. Last month Pepsi--tens of millions of dollars in the hole after being crushed by Coke--abandoned the market again. ...
  • The Fair-Haired Banker

    THE SIGHT OF THE DUO STARTLED even the business elite who power-lunch daily at New York's 21 Club. There, two weeks ago, at his usual conspicuous table, sat Felix Rohatyn, the illustrious rainmaker of the famed Wall Street investment-banking firm Lazard Freres. Opposite him sat Steven Rattner, Lazard's baby-boomer dealmaking star, Clinton friend and savvy media darling who started out writing for The New York Times. Once mentor and protege, they had crossed each other in Lazard's sharp-elbowed culture. The feud had splashed onto a magazine cover. But that was then. Now a genuinely warmhearted goodbye lunch was in order. Rohatyn is ending his banking career fittingly, heading off to Paris for the cushy job of United States ambassador to France. And before Memorial Day, Rattner was promoted to deputy CEO of Lazard, New York, by the firm's owner, Michel David-Weill. ...