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It’s Sumner-time for Dolgen

Jonathan Dolgen is the first top executive recruited by Sumner Redstone for the newly merged entertainment conglomerate Paramount/Viacom.

Dolgen, who as Group president of Sony Picture Entertainment Motion Picture Group re-cently saw his job enhanced at that studio, now becomes a top corporate executive at Viacom, with his responsibilities encompassing the entertainment activities at both Viacom and Par.

Dolgen’s job will be different from Paramount Communications president Stanley Jaffe’s in that it will not include Paramount’s Simon & Schuster publishing arm and the sports franchises. Among other functions, Dolgen will be responsible for bringing in outside funds to co-finance films and structure strategic alliances.

Dolgen will report to Viacom chief executive Frank Biondi; Paramount chairwoman Sherry Lansing will report to Dolgen. Industry sources said Dolgen and Lansing have known each other socially for more than a decade and are on friendly terms.

Sony Pictures president and chief operating officer Alan J. Levine confirmed that the company has agreed to let Dolgen out of the remaining months of his contract. “(Tuesday) night, he came to us and asked for an early release from his contract — that we were happy to give him — to pursue another opportunity, ” Levine said.

Dolgen’s departure from Sony Pictures comes less than fourmonths after he was tapped to run the Sony Pictures movie companies in partnership with chairman of the Columbia TriStar motion picture companies Mark Canton.

Lemberger fills in

The company has named former TriStar vice chairman and current corporate executive veepee Ken Lemberger to fill in for Dolgen on an interim basis.

“It is business as usual, as unusual as our business is,” Canton said. He added that he enjoyed the short partnership, “yet life has to go on immediately today. I’m going to do my job as I always have, and have asked Kenny Lemberger to assist me on an interim basis on anything I might need in the business areas, as my consigliere, so to say.”

Sony Pictures’ decision to let Dolgen out of his contract came as little surprise to top executives in the business. Many said Levine and Canton often clashed with the dogmatic Dolgen, and welcomed the chance to pull the Sony Pictures strings without a third puppeteer.

Canton and Levine insistedthat they count Dolgen among their close friends, adding that Sony Pictures let him out of his contract to pave the way for his new job.

A former president of Fox Inc. and Fox Television, Dolgen has always been known as an enigmatic numbers-cruncher, challenging Canton to cut $ 1.1 million from Columbia’s gross overhead of in excess of $ 20 million for fiscal 1993. Several of the top Columbia and TriStar executives said Dolgen was a deft troubleshooter at Sony Pictures, despite his legendary temper.

Early rumors that Redstone would recruit Dolgen were squashed in late February, but Redstone and Dolgen were spotted having lunch last Thursday. From that meeting, the deal gelled so quickly that there was no time to notify many senior Paramount executives.

An executive familiar with the negotiations said Dolgen was given a rich deal to come into the Paramount fold.

Base pay

Another source speculated that Dolgen’s contract was for three to four years with base pay between $ 1 million and $ 1.2 million with a heady bonus package. Dolgen did not return telephone calls to his office and home.

In addition to Dolgen, one Par executive expected within the next 48 hours for the studio to name Viacom Entertainment president Neil Braun to a top television slot in charge of the studio’s fifth network and related TV activities — a scenario that could still pan out regardless of Dolgen’s status.

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