Will Par's topper move up or move out?

Sumner Redstone‘s Aug. 22 revelation that Paramount was parting ways with Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner immediately caused those close to the deal to ask: Who’s in charge over there?

Announcements concerning studio dealings usually come via a corporate press release, with canned quotes from Paramount chairman Brad Grey or even Viacom chief executive officer Tom Freston. In hindsight, Redstone’s comments on the Cruise deal displayed a level of discord at the company that came to light last week when Freston was fired.

Freston’s sudden career change won’t leave him empty-handed: He’s expected to receive a payout of between $60 million and $100 million, and has an exit deal that doesn’t include a conflict-of-interest clause, leaving him free to join a rival conglomerate.

But with Freston gone, speculation is in overdrive about the future of Grey, who was not only Freston’s pick for the studio gig but also a close mentor and friend, and about possible changes to come at Paramount.

“A studio that has been riven by rumors and dissension now ratchets up to this?” asks one filmmaker. “When is Sumner Redstone going to read something good about his studio?”

The bulk of the press has centered on Grey, the soft-spoken engineer behind the massive makeover on Melrose Avenue that started 18 months ago when he took over as chairman. He has overseen major firings, reconstructed reporting structures and, perhaps most important, shepherded the studio’s acquisition of DreamWorks Pictures.

But the sheer volume of change has arrived with its own share of internal unrest — which has often played out in the press at Grey’s expense.

Insiders have their own theories about why the ax continues to fall at Par, but questions still remain.

“It’s simply all about money,” says one Par-based producer. “The major question that everyone on the lot has is this: Who’s advising Sumner Redstone about Paramount? This is very destabilizing for Brad Grey, since Brad was Tom Freston’s hire, so everyone is trying to figure out the role that Frederick Huntsberry is playing.”

Huntsberry joined Paramount in July from his post of prexy of NBC Universal TV Intl. Working under Grey, Huntsberry splits oversight of studio divisions with Rob Moore.

All three likely will be spending a lot of time with their new corporate bosses, Philippe Dauman and Thomas Dooley, who are known to keep a very close eye on numbers while making savvy deals for Viacom.

As for Freston — who exited the Par lot for good Sept. 7 to the supportive cheers of more than 1,000 staffers — he told the L.A. Times he’s setting his sights on Asia.

He plans to take an extended vacation there before venturing back to sort out new opportunities.

(Dave McNary contributed to this report.)

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