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Exex, staffs mull futures

The future of Universal TV and USA Network execs was not only on the minds of Hollywood players Monday, but on the minds of the execs themselves.

Barry Diller gave votes of confidence to the management teams at both entities, but many questions remain about the structure and staffing of the new USA Networks venture and the scaled-back TV operations remaining at Universal Studios.

Sources said Universal TV chairman Greg Meidel is expected to move over to a senior post at the new company run by Diller. Meidel, who came to the studio in early 1996, is credited with infusing some new life into Universal TV after years of decline.

While sources stressed that no final decisions have been made, Jim McNamara, U’s president of worldwide distribution, is expected to stay on the Universal Studios side, overseeing international production and distribution.

The future of senior execs at USA Network and the Sci-Fi Channel remains to be seen. Chairman Kay Koplovitz and programming prexy Rod Perth now run the channels and, while Diller voiced support, some HSN and Universal execs have been critical of the cable nets’ programming and branding strategies.

Meidel acknowledged that he learned Barry Diller would be his new boss only shortly before the Diller-Universal deal was announced. That said, “Diller communicated to the TV group in a meeting his intention to keep everybody on board,” Meidel said. “Barry Diller and I worked together at Paramount and Fox. I’ve known Barry for 18 years.”

U TV president Ken Solomon also worked with Silver King execs Adam Ware and Doug Binzak at Fox, but Solomon’s future role was unclear Monday. The network TV division that he runs is being split in half, with drama being moved under Diller and comedy remaining with Universal Studios, in part because of U’s half-ownership in Brillstein-Grey Communications.

Meidel said he hopes the new venture with Diller will produce both network comedies and dramas, but the fate of U’s current comedy development slate has not been decided. Because of the uncertainties, several agents on Monday said they will be wary of taking new projects to Universal until the situation is resolved.

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