Sr.-prod'n-staffer void may signal new approach

When rumors started spreading about major layoffs at AOL Time Warner, there was speculation about its impact on the Warner Bros. studio. Ever since the departure of Bob Daly and Terry Semel, there had been fears of another wave of belt-tightening.

A major sigh of relief was audible in Burbank, however, when the specifics were announced last week. The studio, with its fat payroll, was spared. The biggest target on the movie side was New Line, which already had sustained its share of adversity.

More than 100 employees were slashed at the minimajor, representing 20% of its staff.

The move, which followed the departure of production prexy Michael De Luca the week before, marks a serious retrenchment at the company.

New Line has flourished from its early days — when chairman Bob Shaye personally distributed “Pink Flamingos” to college kids — to its current status as a maker of big-ticket grossers like “Austin Powers,” “Dumb and Dumber,” “The Mask” and “Rush Hour.”

The pinkslips were part of a package of an eye-popping 2,400 layoffs at the newly merged AOL Time Warner. CNN slashed 400 jobs and AOL cut 725. Some 100 corporate staffers were let go, as were 400 at Time-Life and 100 at Warner Bros’ defunct Entertaindom.com portal.

Warner Music plans to reduce staff by 600 people over time. And the biggest hit, to 3,800 jobs, could come from Warner Bros. stores, which will all be shut down if they can’t be sold.

At New Line, several of De Luca’s senior staff were handed pinkslips. Casualties on the production side include exec VP Richard Saperstein, exec VP Claire Rudnick Polstein, exec VP Lynn Harris, vice prez Cindy Guidry, director of development Bryan Hickel and Gotham-based senior VP Amy Henkels.

Saperstein worked closely with De Luca to keep New Line growing after Ted Turner bought the company in 1993. He is expected to take a production deal at the studio.

Harris, who was married to De Luca for a short time, ushered films into the company like “Seven,” “Blade” and “Boogie Nights.”

Polstein, too, handled some of New Line’s high-profile products, including the first “Austin Powers,” “Next Friday” and “Wag the Dog.”

Jay Stern, a senior VP responsible for “Rush Hour,” is expected to depart soon to partner with director Brett Ratner in an overall deal for New Line.

Donna Langley, a senior VP, was told her job was intact but has chosen to leave the company anyway.

The move robs New Line of virtually all of its senior production staffers, which may indicate a shift in approach under newly named prexy Toby Emmerich.

For one thing, lower- budget pics (historically a New Line strength) will once again be prized, says AOL Time Warner.

VP of domestic publicity Ilene Reich, who has handled some of New Line’s major campaigns over the past five years, also was let go, along with some junior publicity staffers.

Though Fine Line is thought to be shifting into a distribution-focused outfit, most of its staff is still in place under prexy Mark Ordesky. Business and legal affairs exec Jamie Kershaw is leaving. Two junior execs in the London office are also being dropped.

Prexy of international Rolf Mittweg will remain at the company, along with prexy of theatrical marketing Joe Nimziki and domestic distribution prexy David Tuckerman.

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