The Importance Of Being Mort He's one of America's top real estate developers, with an ego the size of the Ritz. But when it comes to building media properties, Mort Zuckerman doesn't have the golden touch.
By Devin Leonard Reporter Associate Ahmad Diba

(FORTUNE Magazine) – A few months ago the Wall Street Journal ran a short piece about the imminent sale of Rockefeller Center, perhaps the most coveted real estate property in the world. The story said that Goldman Sachs, a major owner, had narrowed the field of potential buyers who would compete in a final round of bidding. They included Equity Office Properties Trust, run by the flamboyant Sam Zell; Fisher Brothers, described as "one of New York's real estate dynasties"; and New Jersey-based Vornado Realty Trust, whose president "used to sit on the Rockefeller Center board on behalf of his former employer, Goldman Sachs." A fourth bidder, Boston Properties, was described simply as a company that had "invested heavily in New York."

What was odd about this bland description is that Boston Properties is run by one of the most famous businessmen in New York: Mortimer B. Zuckerman. As a co-founder and the longtime head of Boston Properties, Zuckerman owns such landmarks as San Francisco's Embarcadero Center and Boston's Prudential Center, and is currently building two flashy skyscrapers in the heart of Times Square. The core members of his fiercely loyal management team have been with him, on average, for two decades. Boston Properties, which went public in 1997, has one of the highest valuations of any publicly traded real estate investment trust; in late September its stock hit an all-time high of more than $43. Indeed, real estate sources believe the company has the inside track on Rockefeller Center, which is expected to go for upward of $2 billion.

But Zuckerman's real estate prowess doesn't begin to explain why he is so well known in New York. On the contrary, if he were just a developer, nobody would really care. No, his notoriety stems from his other business--his media business. Since he bought his first publication, The Atlantic Monthly, in 1980, Zuckerman has expanded his empire to include the New York Daily News, U.S. News & World Report, and the hot new-economy magazine Fast Company. Like many a media mogul, he leads a glamorous existence. He plays softball in the Hamptons with writers and artists. He appears regularly on The McLaughlin Group and Charlie Rose, offering his opinions about politics and world affairs. Over the years his relationships with such women as Gloria Steinem, actress Blair Brown, and designer-socialite Diane von Furstenberg have been chronicled in gossip columns. To put it bluntly, Zuckerman has leveraged his media properties to become famous.

Famous, yes, but not successful. In the 20 years Zuckerman has been a publisher, he has been little more than a wealthy bumbler. His prime property, U.S. News, lost money last year during the greatest magazine advertising boom in history. The Daily News, its circulation stagnant, is in the midst of a costly price war with its archrival, Rupert Murdoch's New York Post. Last year, FORTUNE has learned, the News made only $4 million on estimated revenue of $450 million, after losing $20 million in 1998. The Atlantic, which consistently lost money under Zuckerman, was dumped last year for $10 million. (Zuckerman sold The Atlantic's building for an additional $10 million.) And Fast Company, his only real success, is on the block. Unlike Boston Properties, Zuckerman's big media holdings have been plagued by management turnover. Indeed, according to sources close to the two men, Zuckerman's longtime media partner, Fred Drasner, has largely abandoned ship because his relationship with Zuckerman has become so strained.

Guys like Mort Zuckerman don't just want the psychic rewards that come with owning media properties, important though those may be. They want to be able to say they are as smart and successful in the media arena as they are in the business in which they made their fortune. That Zuckerman is not taken more seriously as a media mogul is a source of enormous frustration to him.

For the rest of us, though, Zuckerman's career raises an intriguing question: Does the fact that you are a superstar in one business necessarily mean you'll be great at any business? Or is it more akin to basketball legend Michael Jordan, who fell flat on his face when he tried baseball? You might call it the Zuckerman Paradox: How can one man be such a genius at one business--and such a mediocrity in another?

'Do you mind if I smoke?" Zuckerman asks, pulling out a sizable cigar. "I don't usually smoke," he adds with an unconvincing shrug. "But here we are."

Where we are is the 18th floor of a midtown Manhattan skyscraper built by Boston Properties, where Zuckerman has his primary office. Displayed prominently on a coffee table are the latest issues of the Daily News, U.S. News, and Fast Company. Lining his shelves are books about politics and foreign affairs, as well as several volumes of real estate closing documents. A Miro painting hangs on a wall--as does a photograph of Zuckerman on Air Force One with President Clinton. They flew together to attend the funeral of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. "Elie Wiesel and I were the only two nongovernment people on the plane," he says.

At 63, Zuckerman looks every bit the billionaire developer. He wears a perfectly tailored pinstriped suit, a sky-blue shirt, and rakish black shoes. But he seems vaguely uncomfortable; as he talks, his foot taps nervously beneath his desk.

Perhaps this is not surprising, for the subject at hand is his media business, about which he feels unfairly maligned. "People seem to think the Daily News is just a vanity operation," Zuckerman says. "It's not. Not that I don't like it a lot. But it's also a business." The same goes for U.S. News and Fast Company. "We are trying to run every one of these properties as a business," he insists. "They have variable years. We had terrific years with U.S. News....It was making quite a lot of money for any number of years." But, he concedes, "it made a lot less money this past year."

Zuckerman's defense of the dismal recent performance of his media holdings comes down to this: Media turns out to be a very tough business. That, he says, is what his critics just don't understand. The Daily News and U.S. News were both losing money when he bought them; turning them around, he laments, is "much more difficult than people understand." Zuckerman continues: "Sometimes in financial terms they never turn around. I mean, The Atlantic never turned around....I think we made money one year out of 20. I don't even want to tell you how much money I put into The Atlantic--tens of millions of dollars in the 1980s. I tried very hard, but we just couldn't seem to get it over the top."

So does Zuckerman wish he'd never gotten into the media business? Not a chance. "I still like it," he says defiantly. "In fact, I love it."

Just then his secretary interrupts; it's time for Zuckerman to leave for lunch at the Four Seasons. (He's a regular.) On his way out, he pauses in the lobby beside a model of the two Times Square skyscrapers Boston Properties is developing. Suddenly he's a different man. Neither 5 Times Square nor Times Square Tower is finished--construction hasn't even begun yet on the latter--but their success is already assured. Ernst & Young has signed a lease for all of 5 Times Square. And another accounting firm, Arthur Andersen, recently agreed to become the anchor tenant at Times Square Tower.

Zuckerman is practically glowing as he reaches behind the display and flips a switch. The two miniature towers are suddenly ablaze. He turns the light on and off several times. "Pretty nifty, huh?" Zuckerman asks with a grin. Then, in a voice so soft he seems to be talking to himself, he adds: "Beautiful buildings."

Zuckerman says he's always been fascinated by both real estate and journalism. Growing up in Montreal, he subscribed to the New York Times as a teenager and covered sports for the college newspaper at McGill University. But after graduating from McGill with a degree in economics and public policy--and then getting a law degree from McGill, an MBA from Penn's Wharton School, and a master's from Harvard Law School--Zuckerman took a job at Cabot Cabot & Forbes, a prestigious national real estate firm with headquarters in Boston.

He was a natural. In 1962, at the age of 25, he stepped into the shoes of Cabot's departed CFO and began arranging major bank financings. By the time he was 29, Zuckerman had earned his first million and was a partner in the firm. Jerry Blakeley, the firm's principal at the time, was so taken with his young CFO that he introduced him as "my private genius."

By 1970 Zuckerman had tired of being someone else's private genius and decided to strike out on his own. When Cabot offered him $2 million for his stake in a deal he had helped broker, Zuckerman sued--and won $4 million. He walked off not only with the money but with one of Cabot's most respected young partners, Edward Linde. Together they founded Boston Properties.

There is almost no other way to describe Ed Linde: He's the anti-Mort. Zuckerman's longtime partner is a bland, reserved, matter-of-fact executive who evinces not the slightest interest in the worldly pursuits that so captivate Zuckerman. Five years younger than his high-profile partner, Linde favors conservative suits and views press interviews as a necessary nuisance. As a boss, Zuckerman has a reputation for being a screamer; Linde is unfailingly courteous.

In fact, their partnership works precisely because the two men are so different. Zuckerman has an instinctive feel for real estate deals, while Linde is a great nuts-and-bolts manager. Here's how Zuckerman describes the partnership: "I do more of the financing and dealmaking, okay? He does more of the planning, architecture, construction, and management side. But having said that, he overlaps much more in terms of what I do. Because he's a very, very, very able dealmaker." Greg Brooks, vice president of Cohen & Steers Capital Management, a large institutional real estate investor, puts it this way: "Mort is the visionary of the company. Ed is the glue."

Shortly after they started Boston Properties, Linde and Zuckerman were chosen by Boston officials to develop a site just south of the city's historic Public Garden. At the time it looked like an incredible coup; their ambitious plan for the site included a hotel, office space, and apartments. But the so-called Park Plaza project was instantly controversial. Opponents feared the towering buildings would cast shadows on the park. After a protracted struggle, Zuckerman and Linde abandoned the project.

The Park Plaza battle has been portrayed as an embarrassing defeat for Boston Properties. But in truth, Zuckerman and Linde emerged from the debacle relatively unscathed, at least financially. More important, Park Plaza represented a strategy that the two men continued to believe in--and have pursued with great success.

What's the strategy? Zuckerman and Linde restrict their activities to those areas--Boston, Washington, New York City, and San Francisco primarily--where you can't stick a shovel in the ground without attracting a crowd of angry citizens. Their philosophy is that if you get approval to build in those markets, you have built-in protection from competitors, thanks to the difficult civic atmosphere. This, in turn, creates what Zuckerman calls "constraints on supply." He continues: "When you have a surge on demand--as we have had in each one of these markets--you will have a big movement in prices. In San Francisco, there is an absolute legal limit. [The real estate community] can't build more than 950,000 square feet a year." (By comparison, New York's Chrysler Building alone is 1.3 million square feet.) "In New York," he adds, "you have a huge shortage of sites. That was one of the reasons we were so aggressive in going after Times Square."

With the strategy firmly in place--and Linde happily running the show--Zuckerman could indulge his outside interests. He taught city planning at Harvard. He threw lavish parties at his Beacon Hill townhouse that attracted Boston's media elite. And, in the late 1970s, he began shopping around for a media property. After sniffing at everything from the Village Voice to Esquire, he landed on The Atlantic Monthly, the distinguished but sleepy magazine founded in 1857, which was in dire need of investors. (The $3.6 million purchase price included the townhouse that the magazine called home.)

Zuckerman's strategy for choosing media properties turned out to be very different from the one he uses to pick real estate deals. "I pursued editorial opportunities that I was interested in," he says simply. "The Atlantic was an extension of all my reading interests since I was in college." Zuckerman assumed that once he was in charge, he could get others just as excited. He made one big editorial change, ousting Robert Manning, the popular editor who had brokered the deal. In his place, he named William Whitworth, whom he had lured from The New Yorker. Mostly, though, he focused on the business side, pouring money into a quixotic crusade to increase circulation and running through several publishers in five years. Nothing worked. "I must have made every mistake, because I was just learning that business," Zuckerman admits.

In effect, The Atlantic was a small-scale version of the 1970s' Park Plaza fiasco. But there was one key difference. With Park Plaza, Zuckerman was trying to make money; with The Atlantic, he was trying to raise his profile.

A black limo pulls up in front of Montebello, a tony Italian restaurant near Park Avenue. A Danny DeVito look-alike hops out. "Fred Drasner," he says. "Sorry I'm late. Traffic was a fucking nightmare."

"Mr. Drasner," says the maitre d', as Drasner saunters into the restaurant. "How nice to see you again!" Drasner looks exasperated: "Whaddya want? Football tickets?"

For years Drasner was known as Zuckerman's "media guy"--the media version of Ed Linde. More recently he has acquired a new identity, one he seems to be enjoying quite a bit more. He is one of the new owners of the Washington Redskins, with more than 15% of the team. As it happens, the Redskins are playing a sold-out game against the New York Giants this weekend in New Jersey.

"All I got are shitty tickets," Drasner says to the maitre d'. "You want 'em? You got 'em." He reaches into his pocket and whips out a cell phone. "Listen," Drasner says into the phone. "If [name inaudible] shows up and asks for those football tickets, don't give 'em to him."

If Linde is bland, Drasner practically overflows with color. A pudgy, cigar-smoking 57-year-old, whose clothes seem eternally rumpled, Drasner is one of the great New York characters. He can be brutally funny--and brutally difficult. He can be charming--and obnoxious. (Once, as a joke, he threw a hunting knife at one of his subordinates during a meeting, shocking a roomful of Daily News executives.) He reeks of Brooklyn shtick. "Hey, I don't care what you write," he says. "Just don't make me look fat. I'm single, you know."

Drasner is still co-chairman of U.S. News and is listed as CEO on the Daily News masthead. But he is no longer managing either publication; numerous sources tell FORTUNE that he's rarely on the premises. Reluctantly, Drasner concedes as much: "I'm receding from day-to-day operations and trying to have [other] guys step up to the plate." When asked about his current relationship with Zuckerman, Drasner is uncharacteristically coy. "Did it work perfectly? No. But nothing ever works perfectly." However, other sources say that the two men have had a serious falling-out and that Zuckerman blames Drasner for many of the current problems at his media holdings. "They don't get along very well," says one person who knows the two men.

Zuckerman met Drasner nearly a quarter-century ago when he was expanding his real estate business into Washington, D.C. A tax attorney, Drasner represented some local developers who wanted to do a joint project with Boston Properties.

The two men hit it off, and in 1981, when Boston Properties won a competition to develop new Washington headquarters for U.S. News, Drasner was Zuckerman's lawyer. Three years later Zuckerman called in Drasner to help him bid for the magazine itself. Part of the reason Zuckerman was willing to pay $178 million for the property was that he was the only bidder who understood the value of the U.S. News building. Sure enough, soon after he bought the magazine, he sold its headquarters building for $80 million--then a record price for Washington real estate.

At The Atlantic, Zuckerman had concentrated on the business side. This time he took the opposite tack, appointing himself editor-in-chief and overseeing the newsroom. U.S. News gave Zuckerman something he had always wanted--something impossible to put a price tag on--a platform. He started appearing on television, meeting with foreign dignitaries, and writing a regular back-page column, complete with his picture. (An editorial assistant was given the task of comparing phrases from his columns with newspaper databases to make sure that none of Zuckerman's prose had been plagiarized.) But as an editorial czar, Zuckerman seemed unsure of himself. He churned through top editors--four in five years. And he was constantly second-guessing the magazine's coverage. "Mort was always very worried about, 'Uh-oh, this guy's going to embarrass us, or we're going down the wrong road, we're going to lose a lot of money,' " says James Glassman, a former U.S. News executive. "You talk about him being a strategic thinker when it comes to real estate. I just never had that impression" of him as a publisher. (Yes, that's the same James Glassman who wrote the recent book Dow 36,000.)

And who was running the business side of U.S. News? None other than Fred Drasner, who, as he himself puts it, "didn't even read magazines" before agreeing to become Zuckerman's media consigliere.

Despite the editorial turmoil, U.S. News under Zuckerman hit on a formula that worked, at least for a while. With Time and Newsweek suffering identity crises, U.S. News came up with an approach that it labeled "News You Can Use." Advertisers loved it. Zuckerman claims to have created the slogan. (Drasner remembers it differently: "We didn't drag him kicking and screaming. We just dragged him screaming.") Whatever the case, by 1992, U.S. News was selling more ad pages than either Time or Newsweek and making between $12 million and $15 million a year. And Mort Zuckerman appeared to be a media mogul to be reckoned with.

The true test of a developer comes not when times are good, but when they're bad--when the real estate market hits one of its inevitable busts. For Zuckerman, hard times came in the early 1990s, at the very moment his media star was rising.

Do you remember the real estate bust of the early 1990s? That was when Donald Trump teetered on the edge of bankruptcy, when Olympia & York, the largest commercial property owner in New York and Toronto, actually fell into bankruptcy. But Zuckerman avoided disaster, largely because his instincts were unerring. "Frankly," he says now, "we anticipated the recession." As early as 1988, Zuckerman and Linde stopped building on spec. They preemptively moved $1.5 billion of Boston Properties debt from fixed to floating rates, which saved the company some $60 million a year. They turned their attention to federal development jobs, which are often less profitable but which generated cash flow and kept the senior management team--all of whom had equity stakes in deals--from walking away. In the worst year for Boston Properties, 1995, the company made $8 million. But, Linde says proudly, "we didn't lose any property."

Perhaps the best illustration of Zuckerman's agility during the bust was the Coliseum project in New York City, his biggest deal of the 1980s--and his most troubled deal of the 1990s. In 1985 Zuckerman won the right to develop the most valuable piece of land for sale in Manhattan: a 4.2-acre site on the southwest corner of Central Park, on which stood an aging exhibition hall known as the New York Coliseum. Zuckerman's $455 million bid wasn't the highest, but he won because he had shrewdly signed Salomon Brothers, which was threatening to leave the city, as his lead tenant.

It was a brilliant stroke. But the $1.3 billion complex that Zuckerman planned to erect generated the same kind of civic controversy he had aroused in Boston with Park Plaza. Opponents, including Jacqueline Onassis and Walter Cronkite, said that the building's two towers--one 58 stories high, the other 68--would darken parts of Central Park. The project got tangled up in court. Then, after the 1987 stock market crash, Salomon bailed. But Zuckerman was protected: He collected a $60 million penalty fee Salomon had agreed to pay if it reneged on the deal.

For the next seven years the Coliseum project twisted in the wind. City officials tried to get Zuckerman to close the deal, but Zuckerman resisted, saying he couldn't go forward without a tenant in the midst of a real estate recession. In 1993 the mayor, David Dinkins, became so furious that he threatened to lay claim to the $33.8 million letter of credit that Boston Properties had put up as a deposit. But Zuckerman waited him out; in January 1994 Dinkins was replaced by Rudolph Giuliani. Giuliani, who was much more sympathetic to the developer's plight, allowed Zuckerman to walk away from the deal for only $17 million. (Of course, Giuliani had reason to see things Zuckerman's way: In 1993 Zuckerman and Drasner had bought the Daily News, and the paper had endorsed Giuliani for mayor.)

'Deals are like women," Drasner likes to say. "You go to a bar some nights--you don't care who's there. You just want to have a drink and go. Other nights there are ten women in there, and, boy, you wish you could have all of them."

Flush with their success at U.S. News, Zuckerman and Drasner went on a deal orgy. It began with the purchase of the bankrupt Daily News for $36 million. Why did they want a down-in-the-dumps newspaper that had been decimated by its two previous owners, the Tribune Co. and Robert Maxwell? They shrewdly understood that they would be able to extract concessions from the paper's unions to get the Daily News out of bankruptcy--and that alone could make the paper profitable. But they also simply fell in love with the idea of owning a newspaper in America's media capital. "It's an icon of New York," exults Drasner. Adds Zuckerman: "I'm a nut about journalism. It's an irrational pursuit, but there you are."

Among the editorial staff at the Daily News there were many of the same complaints that had been heard at U.S. News. Zuckerman lacked a consistent vision. He went through three editors in his first four years. Reporters came and went. And the paper kept shifting its editorial focus. "He doesn't have any gut," says former editor Lou Colasuonno. "He is a very smart, well-read guy, but he doesn't trust his instincts." Even so, thanks to Drasner's ability to negotiate with the unions, the Daily News did indeed make money when it emerged from bankruptcy: $8.5 million in 1993 and $5.6 million in 1994.

Then, in 1995, came the deal for Fast Company, a magazine celebrating the virtues of the new economy that was still in the prototype stage. Drasner saw Fast Company's potential immediately. "I thought the idea they had made a lot of sense, and I went to Mort with it and we did it," he says. Zuckerman took 88% of the equity in return for the startup costs, which wound up being $20 million.

Sources tell FORTUNE that Fast Company turned a profit of $3 million in 1998, two years ahead of schedule. In 1999, Zuckerman says, Conde Nast offered to buy the magazine for what one inside source claims was $150 million. The deal didn't happen. "It's been a fabulous editorial and design success," Zuckerman brags. But his own input has been minimal. "Mort never knew what Fast Company was besides Fred saying, 'I like this! I like these guys! Let's run with it!' " says a former magazine company executive who worked on the launch. "Mort had no involvement."

Next up: two IPOs. The first was for a printing company, Applied Graphics Technologies, that Zuckerman and Drasner owned as part of the U.S. News purchase. As with the Daily News and Fast Company, this was also a Drasner initiative. AGT's stock debuted at $12 a share at its 1996 public offering and soared to $62 the following year. Zuckerman, AGT's chairman, was suddenly $150 million richer. He began suggesting articles at U.S. News editorial meetings on the wonders of IPOs. Drasner, AGT's CEO, saw his holdings rise to $124 million. At meetings with his underlings, he would suddenly blurt out, "AGT! I'm rich!"

The second IPO was for Snyder Communications, an advertising company owned by 31-year-old Dan Snyder, a Washington, D.C., entrepreneur who had been bankrolled by Zuckerman and Drasner. The two men were company directors; Zuckerman had 20% of the stock, and Drasner 8.8%. Snyder Communications went public in September 1996--at $17 a share--and by 1998 it had risen to more than $33 a share, at which point Zuckerman's stake was worth $161 million and Drasner's $78 million. It was around then that a plaque appeared on the door of Drasner's Daily News office that said: KING OF WALL STREET.

The gloating, it turns out, was a tad premature. What, really, did Zuckerman and Drasner have at this point? A tabloid newspaper in the most competitive market in the U.S., a newsweekly with two tough rivals, a money-losing intellectual magazine, a fast-growing new-economy magazine, and a printing company. There was no particular rationale behind this collection of media properties, no coherent strategy to bind them together. And when things started to go awry, neither Zuckerman nor Drasner had the time or the skill to make things right again. That would be their downfall.

Take U.S. News. By 1995 the "News You Can Use" formula was stale. Both Time and Newsweek had renewed focus and had pushed U.S. News back into its perennial No. 3 position in ad pages. With profits flattening, Thomas Evans, the magazine's publisher, pleaded with Zuckerman and Drasner to spend more on promotion. They balked. Top managers also wanted some equity so that they would have the same incentive to stick around through the tough times that the Boston Properties managers had. Drasner refused.

Meanwhile, say former U.S. News executives, the magazine was paying for the upkeep of Zuckerman's jet, his two pilots, and a posh Georgetown home. (Zuckerman says those expenses were paid by a "separate entity.") And Drasner seemed to be using the privately held magazine to boost AGT's stock price. According to SEC filings, AGT collected $52 million between 1996 and 1998 from Zuckerman's media properties for "content-management services." But what really galled the former executives was their belief that they were being overcharged. AGT's competitors, they say, offered to charge 25% less, but Drasner wasn't interested. (Zuckerman and Drasner both respond that AGT's work for U.S. News was priced competitively.) Not surprisingly, senior managers at U.S. News began to bail out.

Things at the Daily News were no better. By 1995 the newspaper was back in the red, losing $8.8 million. Drasner had purchased new printing presses for the Daily News. When they turned out not to work properly, it cost the newspaper millions to correct the problem. In 1996, sensing that his rival was vulnerable, New York Post publisher Rupert Murdoch introduced a 50-cent Sunday paper. The circulation of the News' Sunday edition plummeted by 150,000. To halt the slide, Zuckerman and Drasner cut their Sunday price from $1.50 to $1--a move that cost $400,000 a week. In 1998 the Daily News lost $20 million, which Zuckerman covered personally to keep the paper afloat.

Then there was AGT. In 1998 its stock price crashed into the single digits. The situation was so dire that Drasner relinquished his title as magazine group head to devote more time to the printing business. He insists it was a joint decision, but Zuckerman says he pressured Drasner to take the step.

Relations between the two men continued to deteriorate. Zuckerman clearly blames Drasner for the problems that have beset his media properties. "These things go in cycles," Zuckerman says of U.S. News. "I don't even understand them all, to be honest with you. But I think we had the right people and the right magazine at the right time, and we went off course. Tom Evans left, and Fred Drasner became much less active than he was. I mean, almost completely inactive." He refuses to go into more detail. But FORTUNE has learned that when Zuckerman got more involved in U.S. News, the contract with AGT was renegotiated, much to Drasner's displeasure. U.S. News now does a significant amount of the work in-house that it used to farm out to AGT--at considerable savings. (Drasner denies that he objected to the renegotiated deal.)

Zuckerman is now trying to run the media show himself. It hasn't been pretty. U.S. News lost money last year and has seen a nearly complete turnover on its business-side staff in just the past year. AGT, its stock down to about $2 a share, is for sale. The Daily News continues to be squeezed by Murdoch. In September, when Zuckerman launched the Daily News Express--an afternoon freebie intended to steal circulation from the Post--Murdoch responded by slashing the Post's daily price in half, to 25 cents. Although sources say the Daily News will post a profit of about $8 million this year, that figure is somewhat misleading because it doesn't include the $30 million currently being spent to fix the printing plant problems.

Zuckerman's only real winner is the one property he's had the least to do with: Fast Company. But even there he's floundering. After the talks with Conde Nast went nowhere, Zuckerman tried to sell a majority stake in the magazine's Website to Jake Winebaum, the founder of eCompanies, an Internet incubator, and a former U.S. News senior vice president. The two men came close to striking a deal--but it fell apart in the end. "[Fast Company] is a great business," Winebaum says. "But I don't think it has the opportunity to be the dominant business brand on the Internet anymore. That opportunity has since gone by." Fast Company, which made $10 million in 1999 and is expected to double that this year, is still for sale. But industry sources say Zuckerman's asking price has jumped to a wildly inflated $600 million.

And Fred Drasner? Though he remains on the board of AGT, he resigned as CEO in April. He turned over the Daily News to a former subordinate earlier this year. Mostly he spends his time these days as an "advisor" to his buddy Dan Snyder, who bought the Redskins in July 1999. Drasner and Zuckerman were brought into that deal to help shore up Snyder's financing. But Zuckerman sold his stake back to Snyder five months later--and walked away with a $15 million profit--telling friends that he didn't really care for football. Drasner clearly feels differently. "I like going to the games," he says.

To hear Drasner tell it, he simply got tired of the media business. "I've been working since I'm 12," he says. "I'm 57. The News acquisition, the AGT public offering, all that stuff took a lot out of me." So why, then, is he still listed as Daily News CEO and co-chairman of U.S. News? Why is he still joined at the hip to Zuckerman despite their apparent estrangement? The answer is that the two men's business interests are so complex and intertwined that an official divorce would be extremely difficult. They can't even agree on whether Drasner owns a stake in the magazines. "You remember the movie The Defiant Ones with Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis?" laughs Drasner. "They were in prison and hooked together with a ball and chain? I think we're hooked together."

In 1997 Boston Properties raised $909 million in a public offering--one of the most successful REIT IPOs up to that time. One of the things that particularly impressed Wall Street was Boston Properties' stability. "When we went public, our top 20 people had an average of 17 years," says Zuckerman. "An analyst from Merrill Lynch asked one of our guys, Mike Walsh, 'You know, everybody else has been here 18, 19, 20 years. How come you've only been here 11 years?' And he said, 'I'm 30 years old. I joined them when I was 19.'"

The company used its IPO proceeds to help finance a $4 billion shopping spree, which included such landmark properties as Boston's Prudential Center, the Embarcadero Center in San Francisco, and the two prime Times Square sites. A lot of people thought Zuckerman had lost his mind, and you could see their point: In the fall of 1998 the Russian economy imploded and the real estate market looked as though it was going to collapse again. In particular, people questioned Zuckerman's willingness to complete the $1.2 billion Embarcadero Center deal--which he could have walked away from because he had only signed a letter of intent.

But once again Zuckerman's instincts were better than anyone else's. "It was not a global crisis," Zuckerman says of the Russian collapse. "It was a regional crisis....I was optimistic about the way it would work out." He was right, of course. By 1999 rents were climbing in Boston, New York, and San Francisco. Boston Properties' 1999 revenues soared by 50%, to $786.6 million, and funds from operations, a measure of REIT cash flow, rose 28%, to $196 million. "Everybody thought he was crazy," says Julien J. Studley, chairman of Julien J. Studley Inc., a national real estate brokerage. "But what he did was brilliant."

And now he has a shot at the greatest landmark of them all: Rockefeller Center. Zuckerman already has an edge in the competition because David Rockefeller, who is part of the current ownership group, is a major shareholder in Boston Properties--a stake he acquired as part of the deal for the Embarcadero Center, of which he was also an owner. But there's another reason Zuckerman may have the inside track: the belief that the owner of Rockefeller Center has to be more than just a developer. He has to be someone of stature. That Zuckerman has that stature--that he is now widely viewed as a serious public man--is directly attributable to the fact that he got into the media business. Thus the irony: The best business reason to own a media empire may well be to help land the greatest real estate property in the world.

On a warm morning in October, Zuckerman is in a black limousine heading up Park Avenue. A large teddy bear sits beside his chauffeur. Zuckerman is on his way to pick up his daughter so that he can take her to preschool. The gossips have all reported that Zuckerman has split with his wife of four years, Marla Prather. Zuckerman has said on several occasions that one reason he sold The Atlantic was so that he could have more time to spend with his daughter.

When we get to Zuckerman's Fifth Avenue building, we wait outside in the car. Another black limo pulls up. "That's my daughter," he says. "You're going to have to excuse me."

Zuckerman gets the gargantuan teddy bear out of the front seat and greets his daughter, who is accompanied by her nanny. Then, as she disappears with the bear into the building, Zuckerman leads me across Fifth Avenue into Central Park, where we sit down on a bench.

We talk for a while about both his media and real estate businesses. When the subject is media, Zuckerman is scattered and unfocused. But when the subject is real estate, he speaks with great precision and assuredness.

Yes, he says, he wouldn't mind owning Rockefeller Center, but Boston Properties will pass on the deal if it isn't right. Zuckerman is tempted. "It would be nice" to own Rockefeller Center, he says, "but it's definitely not necessary."

One of the keys to Boston Properties' fabulous success, he continues, is that he has always stuck to what he really understands: "We've had the discipline not to have gone into a lot of other markets. We know what we know. We think we have a core competency. We think we've done very well within that core competency."

So why can't he think the same way when it comes to media?