Henson to head Col prod’n

Lisa Henson, a former Warner Bros. executive veepee of production, will be announced as president of production at Columbia Pictures by the end of this week, replacing seven-year veteran Michael Nathanson, studio sources said Tuesday.

Nathanson, who signed a three-year contract extension at Colpix in December, is expected to stay at thestudio in a senior exec position involving him in all areas of production, marketing and distribution.

Nathanson and Henson did not return telephone calls, but it is believed that negotiations among Nathanson, Henson and Col attorneys were nearing conclusionlate Tuesday.

The move would follow weeks of speculation about various Columbia Pictures production executives, which was sparked after the June 18 release of “Last Action Hero”– a pic that reportedly cost more than $ 90 million to produce and market and has grossed $ 47.5 million domestically to date.

Studio sources said current production executives, including exec veepees Amy Pascal, Barry Josephson and Teddy Zee, will remain in place under Henson. Further details of the Columbia management change are expected to be outlined in an announcement this week, possibly on Thursday morning.

Col spokeswoman Marcy Granata had no comment on possible management changes.

Henson, the eldest daughter of Muppets creator Jim Henson, has long been rumored to be in line for the president of production post because of her longstanding business relationship with Columbia Pictures chairman Mark Canton.

She joined Warner Bros. as executive assistant to Lucy Fisher and Canton in 1983, and rose swiftly through the ranks to become VP of production by 1986.

Speculation that Henson would land at Columbia heated up in December when she did not renew her contract as exec veepee of WB. At the time of her departure, Henson said she would take a long trip to India before considering her Hollywood options (Daily Variety, Dec. 11, 1992).

At WB, Henson earned a reputation as a Harvard sophisticate with fierce opinions about movies and culture in general. Hollywood insiders said they expected Henson to add intellectual weight to Colpix’s senior management team.

On the movie side, Henson has been involved in such pix as the upcoming “Fearless” and “The Secret Garden,””Free Willy,””New Jack City,””The Last Boy Scout,””Lethal Weapon” and both “Batman” titles.

She also remains active in the family business, Jim Henson Prods., which delivered last year’s “Muppet Christmas Carol.”

At Columbia, Henson’s immediate mandate will be to put together a release schedule. Col was one of the hottest studios in Hollywood during Canton’s first 15 months in office, but production has slowed over the last three months. Agents frequently complain that the studio is slow in paying its writers, and is often a tough place for talent.

Columbia has several screenplays currently readying for production, including “Mistress of the Seas,” the Jodie Foster-starrer “Trackdown,” the Damon Wayans-starrer “Blankman,” the UFO superhero comic adaptation “Men in Black” and “Road to Wellville.”

Henson is expected to move quickly to get a couple of the titles into pre-production.

Nathanson has long been considered one of the industry’s savviest political executives because he has survived four separate management changes at Columbia, including such diverse administrators as Dawn Steel, David Puttnam and Frank Price.

Named president of production by Steel in 1989, Nathanson was involved in such productions as “A League of Their Own,””Bram Stoker’s Dracula,””Awakenings” and “Flatliners”– personally overseeing the last two movies after Dawn Steel’s ouster as chairman. He was also key executive on Columbia’s deal with Michael Douglas’ Stonebridge Entertainment.

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