Touchstone prexy will walk De Line

13-year Disney vet to 'make a change' in his life

NEW YORK — After 13 years with Touchstone Pictures, prexy Donald De Line will ankle the studio to pursue other interests, Disney sources said Thursday.

De Line went to Disney brass months ago with the news that he wanted to step down and “make a change” in his life.

Joe Roth, chairman of Walt Disney Studios, was happy to comply with De Line’s request, allowing him as much time as he wanted to choose his future path.

Still under contract with Touchstone, De Line has no time frame for his departure. It could come as early as this summer or as late as next year.

De Line is currently in talks with two other studios for possible production deals. Rumors had surfaced that he might go to Columbia Pictures with producer Larry Mark. But Columbia execs flatly denied the possibility.

Though it was De Line’s decision to leave, the departure conveniently fits into Roth’s plan for the future of the film division.

Bundled banners?

Sources said Disney plans to combine the Touchstone, Hollywood and Disney production banners under one president with the mandate to cut back its release slate to 15 -18 pics per year, a figure Roth has been quoting for months.

Roth has not yet made a decision on who will take over the reins of the combined studios. But David Vogel, president of Hollywood/Disney Pictures, is considered the leading contender.

Neither De Line, Vogel nor any Disney execs would comment on the report, which has been buzzing around Hollywood for several months — and even in France two weeks ago at the Cannes Film Festival.

Sources say Disney was waiting for De Line to set himself up with a deal officially before the news was announced.

“This is not a performance issue,” says one source. “It’s a management philosophy and structural issue. It’s a result of wanting to cut down production and not having all these various labels.”

Under De Line’s watch, Touchstone has released “Ransom,” “Phenomenon” and “Pretty Woman,” and has high hopes for the upcoming “Armageddon” and “Beloved.” Vogel’s divisions meanwhile have accounted for such hits as “Flubber” and “101 Dalmatians.”

The consensus is that Vogel was more likely to lead the combined forces because he has been handling the Disney family films that the studio considers its bread and butter.

Says a source: “The sensibility of the Disney label is really particular. It’s really a driving force for the company.”