The day after an historic national election that proved 1992 is the “year of the woman,” Paramount Pictures tapped producer Sherry Lansing for its newly created position of chairman of the Motion Picture Group of Paramount Pictures.
In announcing Lansing’s appointment, which is effective immediately, the company said the new post reflects a change in the Paramount Pictures organization. There will no longer be a chairman of Paramount Pictures–the position Brandon Tartikoff resigned last Thursday–overseeing both the film and television groups.
Under the new structure, Lansing and Kerry McCluggage, president of Par’s television group, will both report to Stanley R. Jaffe, president of Paramount Communications, parent company of Paramount Pictures. Jaffe, who has been acting chairman of Paramount Pictures since Tartikoff resigned, will relinquish the post.
Although financial details of the agreement, hammered out by Creative Artists Agency’s Michael Ovitz, were not disclosed, a source said, “It’s got to be a very rich deal for Sherry. She was already doing extremely well financially as a producer, so this had to be that much better.”
Reporting to her will be Par’s president of worldwide distribution Barry London, production prexy John Goldwyn and exec VP William Bernstein.
This is Lansing’s second go-round as a high-ranking studio exec. In 1980, she made Hollywood history, becoming the first woman to run a studio film division when she was named president of production at 20th Century Fox, a post she held for three years.
While McCluggage was not given a new title, the splitting of the film and television divisions is a vote of confidence from Jaffe for the 37-year-old executive, whom Tartikoff hired in September 1991 after he left Universal TV.
Under the realignment, McCluggage now has one less layer of management to deal with, essentially giving him a stronger power base at the studio.
Lansing, reached in her office, said her long-time relationship with Jaffe was a big inducement for her.
“One of the strongest reasons that I decided to take the job was because I missed my partnership with Stanley,” said Lansing, referring to a collaboration that produced such films as “Fatal Attraction” and “Black Rain.”
“We had a partnership for many years and I loved that collaboration and I am going to love it in this new situation,” Lansing declared.
Lansing, who reportedly has been offered a number of other high-level executive jobs by other studios over the years, said her familiarity with Par was another reason for her decision.
“I’ve been here for over 12 years,” she said. “I know this lot, I know all the people on it. I respect them, I admire them. It’s like coming home again.”
The new chairman was quick to point out that she has no plans to replace the studio’s current roster of production executives, which includes senior production veepees Michelle Manning and Karen Rosenfelt and veeps Robert Jaffe and Donald Granger.
“I’m not going to make any changes,” she insisted. “I’ve worked with them as a producer. That was a big inducement. They are a great team.”
Lansing said she isn’t put off by the 24-hours-a-day demands of running a studio.
“What was very glamorous for me for a very long time, which was going on location and the thought of living for six months in Japan like we did for ‘Black Rain,’ is no longer appealing to me,” Lansing admitted. “In the year and a half I’ve been married, I’ve been on location for about eight months. This is a chance for me to be home.”
Asked about her immediate plans for the studio, Lansing said, “I don’t want to begin to make predictions. What I have to do is catch up and learn about the movies that are in development and that are ready to go into production.”
As for the type of films she wants the studio to turn out, she added, “I’ve had a certain philosophy as a producer about making films–I believe that you can make quality movies that are commercial. Just because I’ve become an executive doesn’t mean I’ve changed my philosophy.”
Jaffe, Lansing’s former producing partner, was unavailable for comment, but he said in a prepared statement, “Nobody knows better than I Sherry’s total commitment to excellence, her leadership qualities and the enormous talent, intelligence and self-assurance she brings to any project she is associated with.”
“I’m ecstatic,” said Paramount producer Howard Koch Jr. “The entire studio is just buzzing. There has already been a terrific morale boost since she was announced. We’ve got a very happy studio.”
“This place has been rather depressing,” said another producer, “and this is just the thing that we’ve been waiting for. The great thing about Sherry is that she’s incredibly gracious and that she will really be able to bring that to the studio.”
Lansing’s appointment did not come as a surprise to industry observers, most of whom had predicted she would end up joining Par’s executive ranks before the end of this week (Daily Variety, Nov. 4).
The strongest evidence was that for 10 years she was partnered with Jaffe, who was anxious to install someone to run the film division in the wake of Tartikoff’s departure.
“It was her relationship with Stanley that did it,” a Paramount producer said. “I don’t believe there was ever another possibility for that position. It had to be her.”
Others believe that Lansing has a formidable task in shaking up what has become a troubled studio, a place where many filmmakers have become reluctant to do business.
“She’s got her work cut out for her,” said a producer with longtime ties to Paramount. “… It’ll be hard, but if anybody can do it, she can.”
Some of the high-profile films in the Paramount pipeline include “The Addams Family 2,””Beverly Hills Cop 3” and “Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Sequel.”
As for the restructuring of the company, Lansing admitted that she had no desire to oversee the television division.
“I think that the chairman of the motion picture division is a full-time job, ” Lansing said. “I’ve never been in the television division and I would not presume to run that division. I love movies.”
Said a rival studio chief about the new structure: “It’s about fitting the jobs to the personnel. Sherry hasn’t worked in television and they are confident in McCluggage, whose history is in television. They changed it to fit the personnel. They did it with Brandon, because you’d be an idiot not to give him the TV responsibilities.”
But others speculate that there could be other reasons for the restructuring.
“The new job is much smaller than Brandon’s job and that’s the key factor here,” said a studio chairman. “Nobody is replacing Brandon. Stanley has therefore taken Brandon’s job and is not taking the credit for it. Sherry might not have wanted the job but agreed to do it only under these conditions.”
Over the last year, McCluggage, Tartikoff and Paramount Network TV president John Pike have assembled a stable of producers, many of whom worked with McCluggage at Universal.
The only potential drawback of the shift, from the TV group’s standpoint, would be if it represents a decrease in support for those operations.
Tartikoff was, as Pike put it in an interview last July, “a TV guy” who favored investment in that area and sought to create synergy between film and television, frequently wedding TV and feature elements in crafting talent deals–a strategy also employed by most of the other majors.
Paramount also has signed deals with a number of producers of one-hour dramas , expressing faith in the ancillary and long-term value of such programs despite the sluggish domestic demand for hours.
Paramount’s vast TV operation includes network production, international and domestic distribution, an extremely active first-run syndication area, a half-interest in the cabler USA Network and an independent TV station group.