Hollywood's revolving door continues at Universal and Disney
New studio heads is nothing new in turnover plagued year
When Barack Obama promised change when he campaigned for president, he was talking about Washington, not Hollywood. Yet, if you were to look at Hollywood since he took office, it's been almost nothing but.. 2009 has seen so much upheaval at the top of the ranks in the industry that every new announcement is gradually being met more with more of a shrug than an actual sense of surprise.
The past 10 months have seen John Lesher loose his already short-lived gig as president at Paramount, Peter Rice leave Fox Searchlight to run the FOX network, Mary Parent take over MGM from former CEO Harry Sloan, Tom Ortenberg join and then leave The Weinstein Company and longtime Walt Disney Studios chairman Dick Cook's sudden "resignation" (a shock to everyone but those on the Disney lot). Today was even more eventful with Cook's not-so secret replacement being named and a big turnover at Universal Studios.
The unexpected announcement of the day (sort of) was Adam Fogelson has been named the new Chairman and Donna Langley the new co-chairman at Universal Pictures. The duo effectively replace Marc Shmuger and David Linde who are essentially taking the fall for the studio's disappointing 2009. Having greenlit such underpeformers as "State of Play," "Land of the Lost," "Love Happens" and "Duplicity," Universal Studios President and COO Ron Meyer didn't have much choice in the matter as somebody had to take the blame. Additionally, staying in house for his replacements and not trying to find new blood to kick start the studio was the expected move. Both Fogelson and Langley are well-liked by filmmakers and throughout the company and, even more importantly, who is going to jump ship to Universal when parent company NBCUni is either for sale or finding new investors who will have a say in the studio's day to day? With much of the slate set for 2010 anyway, Fogelson and Langley's imprint won't be seen until late fall of next year (assuming they are lucy to be around that long).
The less surprising news was the announcement of longtime Disney Channel President Rich Ross as the new chairman of Walt Disney Studios. Rumored since Dick Cook was let go less than 10 days ago, the company formally confirmed Ross would now oversee all of Disney's live-action and feature animated film labels including Walt Disney, Touchstone, Miramax and Disney/Pixar (though I'd love to see John Lasseter's reaction when Ross gives his first criticisms about anything under the Pixar brand).
Ross became a company star after turning the Disney Channel into a powerhouse with hit series such as "Lizzie McGuire," "That's So Raven" and "Hannah Montana" launching during his reign. It's curious, however, that the studio would tout the channel's original TV movies such as the "High School Musical" series and "Camp Rock" as "equally impressive." Yes, they were big ratings grabbers and "HSM" merchandise made the parent company a fortune, but creatively they're hardly classics. Rumors abound that Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Iger forced Cook out because he didn't feel he was in touch with the tastes of the current theatrical market. So, he brings in a TV guy with no theatrical experience to dictate the direction while integrating new parts of the Disney puzzle such as Marvel Studios and DreamWorks? Note to Mr. Iger: the last time a TV person was put in charge of a movie studio was when your counterpart Brad Grey brought Gail Berman in to revamp Paramount. History indicates that didn't end well or cleanly.
What's the next shoe to drop in the movie biz? Your guess is as good as mine, but considering this year's track record, I figure we've got no longer untl Thanksgiving for something to happen.
Yay or nay on the Uni and Disney moves? Share your thoughts below.
For constant updates on awards season and entertainment news follow Gregory Ellwood on Twitter at Twitter.com/HitFixGregory
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