Twentieth Century Fox president and chief operating officer Strauss Zelnick has re-pacted with the studio for three more years with newly added creative responsibilities.
The 35-year-old executive, who has concentrated solely on the studio’s business operations since joining Fox in August 1989, will now take a more active role on the creative side.
Specifically, the acquisitions department will now report directly to Zelnick , where previously it answered to departed production prexy Roger Birnbaum.
Fox is currently looking to hire a new head of acquisitions to replace senior VP John Ruscin, who ankled in late October to become executive VP of Ticketmaster Inc. (Daily Variety, Oct. 29).
Additionally, the Fox Music Group, which includes all of the company’s music divisions including Fox Records, will now fall exclusively under Zelnick’s purview, where before he shared that overseeing capacity with the production prexy.
Under the existing structure, all other departments, including production, distribution and marketing continue to report directly to Roth’s recently installed successor Peter Chernin. The new movie chairman retains all greenlighting power, while production prexy Tom Jacobson remains directly responsible for activities in the production division.
Chernin, who is more of a delegator than his predecessor, says he is “happy to let Strauss be more involved creatively in anything he’s interested in.”
The new chairman explained, “I tend to be a team manager and I view Strauss as a very key asset of the company. I want his counsel in anything he has time for and I’m certainly interested in his and anybody else’s opinions.”
Sources at Fox say that in the past, Zelnick felt excluded from the creative process and assurances that his voice would be heard on the creative side were reportedly imperative to his remaining at Fox.
Zelnick had been operating without a contract since October. In part, he held off on reupping to avoid undermining any leverage Roth might have had in his own renegotiations at the studio. Zelnick was one of Roth’s first key appointments when he came to Fox three years ago.
Once Roth left, Zelnick reportedly wanted to delay a new deal until he knew who his new boss was going to be.
Sources indicated that while Zelnick was in a holding pattern, he had entertained some outside offers, one from a major publishing company, another from a public industrial company.
But, ultimately, Zelnick acknowledged, “Peter (Chernin) presented me a very exciting opportunity which is involvement in all of the company’s activities and a partnership relationship with him.”
The prexy added, “This business is a creative business and what makes a company truly successful is its creative activities. While the business activities are very, very important, the key thing is making hit movies and marketing and distributing them well.”
On the business side, Zelnick will continue to oversee international theatrical, worldwide homevideo, pay-per-view and pay TV.
During his tenure at Fox, the prexy has played a key role in attracting overseas money to the studio and has been involved in such key negotiations as the company’s longterm output deal with HBO; the launching of Fox Video following the end of its partnership with CBS (formerly CBS/Fox Video); the domestic pay-per-view deal with Reiss Media Enterprises; and the multipicture domestic output deal with James Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment.
Zelnick also helped recruit new top management for Fox’s international division, with the appointment of Walter Senior as president of international distribution and marketing.
The once sluggish division earned the No. 1 market share in overseas grosses in 1991 and is projected to have another record year in ’92.
During his tenure, Zelnick is also credited with having been instrumental in Fox slashing its overhead and cutting its head count by about 20%.
Prior to joining Fox, Zelnick spent three years at the now-defunct Vestron Inc., rising to the post of president and chief operating officer. He started there in July 1987 as senior VP of corporate development and was later upped to president of TV and then again to exec VP before earning his presidential stripes in January 1988.
He joined Vestron from Columbia Pictures Intl., where he served as VP of international TV sales, managing offshore distribution and reupping Col in its international pay-TV joint ventures. Zelnick started in international marketing at Columbia in 1983 after graduating from Harvard.