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Studio Musical Chairs

Posted 10-05-2009 at 10:40 PM by W.West

Great reading ahead! Unfortunately, I did not write it. Read on:

For the second time in two weeks, a major studio has knocked toppers to the side and elevated someone else at the company.

At Universal, Adam Fogelson and Donna Langley have been upped, David Linde and Marc Shmuger are out. By now the story of the ousted execs is well-told: a couple of very profitable years and a contract extension just nine months ago, but then a dismal spring and summer, and here we are.

The industry is still sorting through the Disney Dick Cook ouster from last month, and now it's got a new one to digest. And of course the Uni news comes just a few months after yet another shakeup at Paramount, where Adam Goodman now heads the studio after John Lesher and Brad Weston were pushed out.

That means half the major studios have had a shakeup at the top in the past few months. (The other three -- Fox, Warners and Sony -- have less reason to expect change, with each enjoying pretty solid years. Warners has two of the top four highest-grossing movies in 2009, Fox has three of the top ten, and Sony has the top two movies out now. Of course it was only 2008 when talking-heads were wondering about Fox toppers' future; forget the old ocean-liner metaphor - things go up from up to down and back up again pretty quickly these days.)

Fall housecleaning, Wall Street anxiety, unmet/unreasonable expectations -- there are as many reasons why the movie biz is seeing so many changes at the top.

Among some of the people we talked to, there's a penchant to read the changes as execs' inability to produce a few bankable franchises in an age when a couple gargantuan hits (as opposed to a range of smaller ones) matter more than ever. Certainly that was one of the knocks on Shmuger and Linde, who had greenlit a succession of critically well-received but box office-deprived adult one-offs that all came out this year ("Public Enemies," "State of Play," "Duplicity" etc etc).

But the Disney move gives the lie to that theory. Yes, likely incoming head Rich Ross is seen as a merchandising guru thanks to many of his Disney Chanel hits. But it's not like Cook wasn't known for franchises in his own right -- "The Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Chronicles of Narnia" are still going strong, and the studio already has the annual Pixar blockbuster to rely on.

Meanwhile, it's not like Uni is going outside to fill the spot, which is what you do when you want to change direction in that way. Marketing expert Fogelson and production chief Langley are veterans of the studio. Plus, even under Linde and Shmuger, Uni was already was trying to develop marketing-ready tentpoles, what with the burst of development on its Hasbro slate, its Dark Horse first-look deal and a number of monster remakes, while pushing forward a much-needed fourth pic in its "Bourne" franchise.

It's always tempting to read the replacement of execs as evidence of a sea change. Often, though, it just means a smaller ripple
by Steven Zeitchik
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  1. Old Comment
    Fearless's Avatar
    Oi vey...
    Posted 10-05-2009 at 11:31 PM by Fearless Fearless is offline

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