According to Friday's headline in the "Orlando Sentinel," "It's just business as usual" at Universal's theme parks. That virtually nothing has changed since General Electric formally completed its acquisition of Vivendi Universal this past Wednesday. Which resulted in the creation of one huge, brand-new mega-media conglomerate: NBC Universal.
Well, it certainly wasn't "business as usual" for some 24 members of the Universal Creative team (I.E. The folks who actually design all the rides & attractions for the Universal theme parks). For these folks got calls at home late last Tuesday night, saying (in essence) "Don't come into work tomorrow. You don't work for Universal Creative anymore."
Mind you, Universal management immediately tried to put the best possible face on this after-hours massacre. Insisting that it wasn't anything special. That it was strictly a coincidence that all of these Universal Creative workers were being laid off just hours before the NBC / G.E. acquisition was complete. That the real reason that all these folks -- who had been working on Universal Studios Shanghai -- were being let go was because the Chinese government had yet to provide the corporation with the necessary permits to go forward with construction of that theme park.
However, those who are familiar with what's REALLY been going with Universal's theme park division insist that it wasn't the Chinese government that was at fault here. But -- rather -- the Universal Parks & Resorts management team. Who are determined to do whatever they have to in order to Universal's theme park division look good to G.E. management. Even if it means getting rid of the very artists & engineers who actually create all the rides, shows & attractions for the parks.
According to one Universal insider:
"It's all about keeping the numbers up and the head count down. Making sure the books look good to our new bosses at NBC. Which will hopefully convince the folks at General Electric that it would really be worth their while to hang onto the Universal theme parks."
Mind you, last Tuesday's after-hours cutback wasn't the only "reduction in force" that Universal Creative has had to endure. Just five months ago, over 100 people worked for this division of the company. Now there are fewer than 20 staffers working for Universal Creative. And most of these folks are veteran managers & their assistants. I.E. The paper pushers. Not the hard-core creatives who actually do most of the heavy lifting on the theme park projects.
The real irony here is that Universal Creative is coming off one hell of a winning streak. Just in the last 12 months, they've successfully opened "Jimmy Neutron's Nicktoon Blast" and "Shrek 4-D." Two film-driven attractions that have proven to be huge hits with visitors to the Universal theme park.
And this coming Friday, Universal Orlando opens "The Revenge of the Mummy." The new thrill ride which was getting rave reviews from theme park enthusiasts even during its test-and-adjust period last month. Even though key effects & animatronics had yet to be insulted.
Folks who had ridden USF's "Mummy" attraction over this past weekend (now that all the ride's effects & figures are finally in place) say that it's the very best thing that Universal Creative has ever done. That this attraction is destined to become Universal's "Pirates of the Caribbean." As in: It's the attraction that will redefine what you think of the Universal theme parks.
Normally, news like this would be a cause for celebration. But -- given that there's virtually no one left in Universal's Creative department -- what's the point of celebrating now?
Don't get me wrong, folks. Universal Studios' "Revenge of the Mummy" ride is a wonder. (And just wait 'til tomorrow, when you get to see the pictures that Chuck Oberleitner took during his recent walk-through of Universal Studios Hollywood's soon-to-be-opening "Revenge of the Mummy" ride.) But -- as any serious theme park fan will tell you (And -- yes -- I realize that "serious theme park fan" is kind of an oxymoron) -- great shows & attractions don't grow on trees.
And to be celebrating this great new addition to Universal Studios Florida just as the folks who actually created "Revenge of the Mummy" are out there, brushing up their resumes ... All because their old bosses at Universal want to look good for their new bosses at G.E. ... Just seems a trifle bizarre to me.
So how do you folks feel about this development?