Barry Diller

The media mogul on taking down Google, the joy of breaking balls, and a certain gay-mafia rumor.

(Details, May 2006. Photo: Lise Sarfati)

Q: People laughed when you took on the Big Three TV networks in the mid-eighties—and then went on to create Fox. But now you’re going after Google with—I mean, come on, aren’t we all powerless against Google?

A: See, I object to the whole glorification and absoluteness of it. There’s audience available. And I don’t think it is human to live completely inside of one product for an everlastingly long time. And I like an odds-off contest. What appeals to me is the idea that you pour a little foreign element into something and it changes the pool, it changes the water. You can make it muddy and black, you can make it smell bad, you can do all sorts of horrible things. But you can also reorder things.

Q: I’ve heard you’re a bit of a hard-ass to work with.

A: I’m always trying to get to the truth of a thing, and I believe that what most people say without some pressure on them is superficial. They’re using someone else’s guideposts, someone else’s truth. So I’m prepared to scratch, scratch, scratch. And sometimes that creates a little irritability, a little bleeding, though it never ends in death. But that’s my process. I keep scratching until it elicits from a person his truth, and that truth can educate all of us. Some people like it, are stimulated by it. Others hate it. And I’m totally sympathetic to that. Truthfully, I just want them to go away. For their own good, because they can’t play in that yard. So they need to play in another yard.

Q: I bet there’s a lot of screaming in Mr. Diller’s yard.

A: You know what? People call me an idiot all the time. And I’m happy about it. Of course I am. I say things that upon examination are utterly birdbrained. So we get heated. We like yelling at each other, and I don’t mean yelling at each other, because we really don’t yell at each other, but we speak passionately. There’s depth, creative conflict, argument, passions. And during that people might say “Well, that’s an idiotic thing to say!” or “You fool, how could you say that?!” But nobody goes “Oh my God, I’ve just been called a fool!”

Q: Has anyone ever asked you about that infamous remark Michael Ovitz made? That you are part of a gay mafia in Hollywood?

A: It’s just so . . . It’s such a juicy lie. It really is. It’s so juicy it is irrelevant. It is, of course, absurd. It’s just juicy. You know. And Michael Ovitz had people who were homosexual and people who were not as part of the gay mafia. But nevertheless, it’s a juicy lie, and—what can I say?—its veracity is irrelevant. But I laughed when I read it. I said, “This is great!”

Q: Seriously, though, how do I become a mogul?

A: I have no wisdom, I only have my own opinion. The only thing that I hope people don’t do is arrive at precise goals for their future. I have come to believe that the fact that I never had any goals has been a great piece of good luck. I have also observed that people, particularly young people, say such oafish things as, “I want to be head of a studio.” I say to myself, “Well, you know what, you ain’t never gonna be.” If you fixate on things like that, you’re more than likely to miss the road.