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Valenti, studios talk over succession plans

Follow-up meeting not yet set

WASHINGTON — Hollywood heavyweights met with Motion Picture Assn. of America prexy Jack Valenti in Beverly Hills Monday to discuss plans to select his successor.

The meeting between Valenti and top-ranking studio execs took place over lunch at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills.

Among those attending on behalf of the seven major studios were Warner Bros chairman-CEO Barry Meyer, Fox CEO Peter Chernin, Universal Pictures chairman Ron Meyer, Disney prexy-COO Bob Iger, Viacom Entertainment Group chairman Jonathan Dolgen, Sony Pictures Entertainment vice-chairman Jeff Blake and chief administrative officer Beth Burke. On speaker phone was MGM chairman Alex Yemenidjian.

MPAA spokesman Rich Taylor would not discuss any details of the gathering.

“Nothing concrete took place. None of us feel particularly anxious about this (the succession), so it’s no telling how quickly anything will move along,” one participant told Daily Variety.

No follow-up meeting to discuss this particular issue was set up.

In the last week, however, Washington lobbying circles have been buzzing in anticipation of what many consider the first steps of a formal process to find the right replacement.

Valenti, 81, has represented the motion picture industry in Washington for nearly four decades and became an icon in the process.

Months of rumors that Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) was the pre-chosen replacement became so hot that Tauzin issued a letter last week pledging to run for re-election in 2004 and stay on as chairman of the powerful Commerce Committee.

That promise has not kept his name out of the running as he is apparently still a top choice of several studios, along with Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) as and Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.).

But industry reps may have to resort to the hard-sell to convince a prominent lawmaker to accept the job.

While the post is one of the highest paying lobbying positions in Washington at $1 million-plus, it requires considerable time and travel and a tolerance for arbitrating industry squabbles.

“I think Tauzin would be terrific,” said Mickey Gardner, an attorney who represents the interests of Hollywood producers, writers and directors in Washington.

“There’s not an issue he can’t fully absorb. He’s also seasoned on the Hill, and nobody’s going to push him around. But I can’t imagine why he’d do it. The headache potential is just too great.”

The studios would like to reach unanimous or near-unanimous support for whomever they choose — a tough task for motion picture execs whose interests are often at odds with one another.

The process, however, is still fluid, without any formal guidelines or rules.

“There’s no rule for this; they’re going to make it up as they go along,” one insider noted.

Studio execs also planned to address the dramatic changes the industry faces since Valenti came on board in 1966.

Back then, Hollywood and the studios were focused solely on making movies. Now they must embrace such disparate sectors as theme parks, music, television and satcasting.

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