Greetings — Quickbeam here.

We’ve already learned that Michael DeLuca, President of Production for New Line Cinema, said sayonara yesterday. Or maybe he was fired… or laid off… we don’t really know. All things being equal, suffice it to say that a very young and creative force behind the Lord of the Rings project is now absent.

Why would DeLuca leave after bringing so much success to New Line? Keep in mind the old adage: In Hollywood, you’re only as good as your last picture. That means even though DeLuca is responsible for green-lighting a remarkable list of money makers (Seven, Rush Hour, the Austin Powers franchise, to name a few), somebody has to take the fall for the huge disappointment of Little Nicky, which was also under DeLuca’s wing. Since the year 2000 was a mediocre year for New Line, the shape of the executive landscape is bound to change.

But has everyone forgotten that Lord of the Rings will, ultimately, be the biggest financial box-office dream that any studio could hope for? I may not be a hard-boiled Distribution Prexy but even I can see how stacked the odds are on this. Still, there are other dark forces behind the curtain influencing events.

This is what Daily Variety had to say: 

“In the wake of the Time Warner-AOL merger, which closed last week, the pressure has been on New Line, whose films such as the Sandler vehicle Little Nicky have failed to turn a profit. And then there is the long-gestating Warren Beatty starrer Town and Country, which has everyone worried: Budget for the pic, finally set for release in March, has soared to more than $80 million.”

I’ll translate this for you. New Line Cinema is well under the umbrella of Warner Bros. But now, thanks to the merger, Warner Bros. does not really belong to itself anymore… They have to answer to a larger entity. If you like, you can imagine all of Steve Case’s ill-mannered and brutish henchmen running around the Warner lot barking orders. People will be fired. Projects will be taken out of development. This could get ugly before it’s all over.

With New Line taking big investment risks like Town and Country, and especially sinking $270 million into a huge 3-picture fantasy franchise, you better believe the pressure is on for the current slate of films to rake in the dough. And like I said, the year 2000 has left a very bad taste in their mouths. If the current Thirteen Days underperforms at the box-office, then the stink will really hit the fan.

You may not immediately think that the merger of AOL and Time-Warner would have much effect on the Peter Jackson trilogy of films. And I personally hope with all my soul that they leave this particular production alone. But it may have an effect — in ways yet to be seen.

Much too hasty,