In what represents a definitive changing of the guard in the international TV biz, Bruce Gordon is stepping down as president of Paramount Television Intl. and will be replaced by Gary Marenzi, currently the president of the international division at MGM.
The Aussie-born Gordon, who has been with Par for 35 years and whose latest contract expires in September, has inked a multiyear deal as a consultant to Paramount, while Marenzi, for whom the move is a step up, will begin his duties as president Oct. 1.
Marenzi, currently president of MGM Telecommunications Group, will have responsibilities for the distribution to foreign broadcasters of Par’s movies and TV shows abroad, the development of localized shows abroad and co-production/co-financing arrangements. Marenzi will be involved in a transitional phase at Par beginning Aug. 1.
The retirement of Gordon, the last of a clutch of old-style TV toppers, signals the end of an era in which TV bosses — from Warners’ Charlie MacGregor, through 20th Century Fox’s William Saunders to MCA’s Colin Davis — ran their operations their own way, with little interference from their studio bosses. All of these have now retired.
The handover from Gordon, who is 69, also signals a generational shift at all the Hollywood majors in international TV. All those divisions at the majors are now headed by up-and-coming 30- and 40-year-olds.
Paramount TV Group chairman Kerry McCluggage, to whom Gordon reports, said, “Bruce not only helped create the international TV marketplace, but he defined the class and sophistication of his department which has become his legacy.” Under Gordon the division’s revenues grew from a paltry $8 million a year to several hundred million today.
Said Gordon: “Paramount has been my home, and the worldwide television business has been my life, for 35 years. I am looking forward to an advisory position in which I will be a significant part of Par’s ambitious international strategy.”
Marenzi, interestingly, brings experience in the increasingly key pay TV and channel development areas, having served as head of UIP Pay TV Group for three years in London from 1989-92 before joining MGM. Through the UIP association, Marenzi became familiar with Paramount product (UIP handled product from Par, Universal and MGM internationally).
As head of the free TV division at Par, sources point out, Marenzi will mainly be involved with program sales to over-the-air broadcasters, but he will also have to liaise with Jack Waterman, the president of Par’s Worldwide Pay TV unit, who recently renewed his contract. Both Waterman and Marenzi report to McCluggage.
Marenzi, who is 41, told Daily Variety he will build on the groundwork laid by Gordon and his team but will put emphasis on analysis, research and marketing and on developing local production opportunities in certain key territories.
Said McCluggage: “Gary is a superior operational executive with exceptional strategic skills. He has a well-deserved reputation as a leader and innovator.”
Sources suggest that the job at Paramount for Marenzi will be different in both style and substance from what it was under Gordon.
Nowadays, with the crucial importance to the studios’ bottom lines of foreign TV coin, there’s much more give and take with studio bosses at all the Hollywood majors. International TV is no longer just a program sales-driven, relationship-intensive biz, but a bottom-line, marketing and research-intensive operation as well.
Revenues from free and pay TV divisions of the Hollywood studios will top out at an impressive $3 billion this year, an estimated 40% increase over that sector’s performance a decade ago.
Gordon, who has been at the helm of his division since 1974, presided over the Paramount TV and film library during the rise of commercial television in Europe in the ’80s through to the current digital pay TV boom. Most recently he orchestrated top-dollar output deals in Germany and France, which are already helping to offset Viacom’s annual debt load.
Marenzi, sources say, will be under pressure to continue to squeeze top-dollar from free TV clients who pay handsomely for A-tier U.S. product, but increasingly snub the mediocre fare.
Paramount had been scouting sporadically for someone to understudy Gordon for the last year, having hoped at first to lure Armando Nunez Jr. to the studio. (Nunez, who is only 36, ended up in January with the president’s title over at rival Universal Intl. Television.) Negotiations with Marenzi heated up in the last few weeks during the L.A. Screenings event.
Reflecting on his decades-long relationship with Gordon, Klaus Hallig, the longtime North American rep for Germany’s powerful Kirch Group, told Daily Variety: “Bruce is without question the dean of international TV. He could call anyone on the phone and get them — from Leo (Kirch) and Silvio (Berlusconi) to Rupert (Murdoch) and Kerry (Packer).
“The Paramount people are wise to keep him on as a consultant; you simply can’t replace this kind of knowledge and level of connection,” Hallig added.
Marenzi has headed the MGM Telecommunications Group since its formation in 1994 and was instrumental in launching the first-ever studio-branded classics channel, MGM Gold in Asia. He was also the architect of an ongoing feature film output alliance with Viacom’s Showtime Networks.
As the head of the MGM division Marenzi oversaw both free and pay TV sales as well as channel development and co-production. During his tenure the division experienced a growth in revenues of over 600%, according to MGM execs. Sources say Marenzi has both analytical deal-making skills and salesman chutzpah.
“We wish him well in his new endeavors. We are actively interviewing candidates for his position,” said an MGM spokesman.
Marenzi leaves MGM at a time when his division is on the verge of a boost. With the addition of Orion Pictures and the Goldwyn Entertainment Co., both recently acquired from John Kluge’s Metromedia Intl. Group, the division will have a larger library, some 4,000 titles all told, to sell. Goldwyn brings the “American Gladiators” franchise into the fold; Orion brings the oeuvre of Woody Allen, “Silence of the Lambs,” “Dances With Wolves” and “Bull Durham,” among other titles.