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Body count rises as Par labels retool

Aversano wields ax at MTV, Nick

Just when it seemed that the corporate halls of Paramount were returning to a state of calm, newly installed MTV Films and Nickelodeon Movies topper Scott Aversano has effectively cleared out the entire executive staffs of both Par divisions.

Eight staffers and eight assistants were laid off in total. Several other execs and staffers were moved to other jobs within the MTV Networks cabler; several others had already made that trek.

Wholesale layoffs came just six weeks after Aversano’s arrival, which coincided with the upgrading of MTV and Nick from studio-based production companies to full-fledged labels within the Paramount Motion Picture Group (Daily Variety, Aug. 22).

No replacements for the laid-off staffers were announced, but a Par spokesman said Aversano is expected to name new hires in the coming weeks.

David Gale, who ran MTV Films, is now exec VP of new media and specialty film content for MTV. Julia Pistor, who ran Nick Films, has ankled the executive offices but will continue to work on Nick films as an independent producer.

The firings didn’t come totally out of the blue considering that the two staffs had been assembled by Gale and Pistor and that Aversano — who had been a producer with a first-look pact with Par — was hired with a mandate to radically transform the divisions.

Execs close to the situation say that elevating the shingles was a coup for Paramount Pictures prexy Gail Berman, helping solidify her position. Though some in town had been in the dark about Par’s slate, it has a hefty lineup of releases from its various divisions for next year. With their shift to full-fledged labels, MTV and Nick are expected to contribute even more to the studio’s upcoming slates.

Despite the brand recognition for MTV and Nick, the film operations have often struggled at the box office and been criticized for not always having a clear strategy. Goal of the reorg is to take full advantage of the labels’ capacity for reaching their core audiences effectively.

Studio honchos believed there should be more coordination between MTV Films and Nick Movies, as well as a more streamlined reporting chain. To that end, they put Aversano in charge.

Aversano, who reports to Berman, called a meeting late Thursday and told the production, development and marketing staffs of the firings.

At Nick, Pistor was overseeing “Charlotte’s Web” and “The Spiderwick Chronicles.” The division also has “Case 39” in production. Paramount’s 2007 slate includes the Hilary Swank starrer “Freedom Writers,” a Par-MTV co-production.

Aversano signed a first-look production deal with Paramount late last year. Before that, he spent seven years working for Par-based Scott Rudin Prods., most recently as prexy of production.

While MTV had successes with the “Jackass” movies, “The Longest Yard” and “Napoleon Dynamite” (which it acquired with Fox Searchlight), it also has produced disappointments including “Aeon Flux,” “Get Rich or Die Tryin’ ” and “The Perfect Score.”

Nick’s bright spots include TV toon adaptations “The Rugrats Movie,” “Rugrats in Paris” and “Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius,” as well as this summer’s “Nacho Libre” and “Barnyard,” but other productions such as “Rugrats Go Wild,” “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” and “Yours, Mine and Ours” didn’t meet expectations.

(Dave McNary contributed to this report.)

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