Debbie Liebling nears Universal deal

Fox exec would become president of production

Debbie Liebling has graduated from the shortlist to the negotiating table to take over as president of production at Universal Pictures.

While the studio declined to confirm the talks, and Liebling was unavailable for comment, others close to the situation said Liebling and U are trying to work out a deal.

Liebling is currently exec VP of production at 20th Century Fox, where she’s worked since 2002. She has long been one of the more sought-after execs in town whenever top spots become available at studios or production companies.

At Fox, she shepherded such laffers as “Borat” and “Dodgeball” before being tapped in 2007 as prexy of production of Fox Atomic, the younger-skewing genre label that lasted for only two years before shuttering this year. The division produced the horror films “Turistas,” “The Hills Have Eyes 2,” “28 Weeks Later” and “Jennifer’s Body” and comedies “I Love You, Beth Cooper” and “Miss March.” It also released the Renny Harlin actioner “12 Rounds,” produced by World Wrestling Entertainment.

She was a contender to run the film side of Peter Chernin’s new Fox-based shingle, and she was reportedly considered to replace Daniel Battsek at Miramax Films; Walt Disney Studios’ new chairman, Rich Ross, is a former boss from her days of working in TV.

Should she get the job, Liebling would replace Donna Langley, who was upped to co-chairman of the studio, alongside Adam Fogelson, who was named chairman, in October.

Since taking the reins of the studio, Fogelson and Langley have been working overtime to put their 2011-12 slate together and are looking for some easy-to-market hits and more affordable genre fare that can reap healthy rewards at the B.O. Liebling has become known for making those types of films.

Over the years, Liebling helped attract such prolific comedy producers as John Davis, Jay Roach, Peter and Bobby Farrelly, Harold Ramis, Mike Judge and Steve Oedekerk to Fox. Before joining the studio, she was a senior programming and development exec at Comedy Central, where she helped launch “South Park.”

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