Brandon Tartikoff’s brief reign at Paramount Pictures is over.
Just 15 months after becoming chairman, Tartikoff, citing family obligations, abruptly announced yesterday that he was resigning.
While rumors of his demise began to heat up during the past several days, Tartikoff made it official yesterday morning when he addressed Paramount division presidents and, shortly after, delivered a resignation speech to more than a hundred Par vice presidentson the studio’s Stage 13.
Tartikoff, 43, the former chairman of NBC Entertainment who propelled the network to ratings supremacy during the ’80s, joined Paramount in July 1991. He replaced Frank Mancuso Sr., who left under pressure from Paramount Communications chairman Martin S. Davis and president Stanley R. Jaffe.
“This is a real sad day,” producer Scott Rudin commented, adding, “This is not completely surprising to me, given other conversations that he and I have had about other things going on in his life.”
Producer Lorne Michaels, who recently extended his development pact at Par, said he was caught off-guard by Tartikoff’s decision.
“I had no idea about it,” Michaels said. “I know how much his work means to him and I think this is a big sacrifice.”
Other on-the-lot producers were less worried about Tartikoff than about themselves. One said of his post-Tartikoff situation, “It’s like the fall of Saigon. I’m running for the American embassy and hoping to get on the last chopper out.”
Par announced that Jaffe will serve as acting chairman of Paramount Pictures until a replacement can be found. Tartikoff will remain with Paramount until Dec. 1.
After announcing that he was stepping down, Tartikoff told the assembled group, which included his wife, Lilly, “My reason is that I have family obligations–namely the care and well-being of my daughter–that necessitate my being out of Los Angeles for protracted periods of time.”
Tartikoff’s 9-year-old daughter, Calla, was injured in an automobile accident on Jan. 1, 1991, near the family’s vacation home inLake Tahoe. Calla, who was hospitalized with a brain concussion, is now in rehabilitation therapy in New Orleans, where Tartikoff has been commuting every other weekend.
“I have learned the hard way that it is one grand illusion if you start believing you can be totally dedicated to the demands of your job without short-changing your pressing responsibilities to your family,” Tartikoff continued.
“I have come to believe that my daughter’s progress is linked and stimulated by my being there. By not being there I am placing an unbelievable burden on my wife, Lilly, and depriving my daughter of my support just when she needs it most.”
Tartikoff also told the group that “unlike what you may have read, you will be hearing the truth here,” referring to the constant stream of rumors regarding his reportedly strained relationship with his superiors, Davis and Jaffe.
Davis, who was not available for comment, said in a prepared statement, “This undoubtedly had to be an extremely difficult decision for Brandon to make, but obviously his conflict between career and family had to be resolved in favor of family. Consequently, we reluctantly accepted his resignation.”
Interviewed in his office yesterday, Tartikoff flatly dismissed talk that he was leaving because of unhappiness at the studio.
“Whatever differences we had got worked out very early on,” he said. “The problems were there initially because it was a case of not knowing each other’s styles. I’ve been sensitive to and aware of all the gossip and rumors, and the reality is I’ve never been in a job where everything was perfect.
“Whatever differences there were, I’d have to be amazingly unhappy to walk away from millions of dollars, which is in effect what I’m doing and that’s not the case.”
Sources did suggest yesterday, though, that Tartikoff is walking away with between $ 12 million and $ 15 million.
Tartikoff, who took over the reins of the studio in the wake of such expensive box office disappointments as “Days of Thunder” and “The Godfather III ,” was given the mandate by Davis to cut the movie division’s costs, a task he was able to perform.
Because of his background at NBC, Tartikoff entered into a number of production deals with successful TV producers, including Lorne Michaels, who created and produced NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.” One of the biggest hits to come out of Tartikoff’s reign was “Wayne’s World,” an “SNL” spinoff.
Tartikoff also took issue yesterday with reports citing his division’s poor presentation during a management conference held last week in Rancho Mirage as another reason for his departure. Sources called the presentation, which included the screening of trailers of several upcoming Paramount releases, “a disaster.”
“Those reports really rankled me,” Tartikoff insisted.
“That really was a wrong message. It wasn’t like we were presenting Paramount to stock analysts or exhibitors at ShoWest. I think we communicated what we wanted to communicate. Some of the presentations were fantastic, some were good and some were fair.”
Tartikoff did admit, however, that the management retreat made him realize that it was time for him to leave.
“I felt that I was sort of letting them down to not be a full-time devoted leader who works the town, cajoling the talent to come to Paramount,” Tartikoff said. “That’s what they need right now.”
Tartikoff also denied that he was heading for any other industry job.
“I’m not segueing into a production deal,” said Tartikoff, who insists that Paramount did offer him such a deal, which heturned down.
“Essentially I’m leaving Paramount clean. I’m not one of these guys (who) they are writing a check (to) to go away. I’m not leaving Paramount to go buy NBC with Bill Cosby. I’ve taken myself out of play to fulfill my obligation to my daughter and to share the responsibility with my wife.”
But while Tartikoff continued to insist that he was leaving for family reasons, numerous Hollywood exex and industry observers expressed skepticism about that being the only reason.
“The unhappiness factor forBrandon at Paramount was enormously high,” a rival studio chairman said. “That, coupled with the set of personal problems that are very difficult, was just too much. Let’s face it, if he hadn’t been so unhappy at work, he would have stayed at work and worked through the personal problems as he’s been doing for the last year.”
Said another highly placed executive: “I thought Brandon was going to make it , but … Davis with Jaffe is too much for any human being who has sensitivity, the way it appears Brandon has.”
Said another: “Civility is crucial to management. There was no civility there.”
Yet others disagreed with those assessments. “My absolute, unshakeable belief in this is that Brandon, as a man and as an executive, is as tough as it gets,” said a producer with a deal at Paramount. “It would take a lot more than the day-to-day dealings with an equally demanding management to make him want to leave a job.
“This is a guy who’s had major adversity in his life at various points. Stanley Jaffe is a tough boss and Brandon Tartikoff is a tough boss, too. They’re both shrewd players. I don’t buy any of it.”
Another factor that has apparently created friction between Tartikoff and his bosses was the fact that the outgoing executive recently had been spending time away from his duties at the studio while he was promoting his just-published autobiography focusing on his days at NBC, “The Last Great Ride.”
“One of the last straws was Brandon going out on his book tour, while Paramount was hung up in the muck and mire,” a rival studio executive said. Other sources said that Par officials were “berserk” over the amount of time he was spending on the effort.
As for a successor, Tartikoff and the studio are tight-lipped. Some of the names being floated around as possible replacements include producers Sherry Lansing–who, partnered with Jaffe produced several Paramount films, including “Fatal Attraction”–and Rudin, also with ties to Paramount. Other names include CAA’s Jack Rapke and ICM’s Jim Wiatt.
Sources suggest another possible scenario in which Lansing would take over the film division only. She and current TV division president Kerry McCluggage would both report to Jaffe, who would take a freer hand over both divisions.
“My successor hasn’t been discussed with me,” Tartikoff said. “When you walk away from a job, it’s not like a jersey that they’re going to retire. They will fill my position.”
A top agent, however, expressed skepticism that Paramount would have an easy time filling Tartikoff’s shoes. “They will have a hard time filling the job because people know what they are up against. It’s a senior position without the authority to act. If Paramount didn’t empower Brandon, it’s not going to empower anyone else.”