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McGurk enters lair to plan Lion’s attack

UA's role uncertain

The lion’s den is in for a bit of rearranging. A second public offering and merger talks with a cable programmer top Chris McGurk’s “must do” list as he moves into the MGM vice chairman’s office today.

New upper management, which includes recently installed MGM chairman Alex Yemenidjian, also must address the current production staffs and slates, as well as licensing of the behemoth-sized library. And then there’s the question of UA’s role in the MGM structure.

Although there has been widespread speculation surrounding the futures of MGM prexy Michael Nathanson and UA topper Lindsay Doran, sources at the studio said that there have been no definite decisions made about their fates.

When Nathanson met with Yemenidjian and McGurk and on Friday, Nathanson told his creative staffers that he had been assured that he was not being fired and that their jobs were not in jeopardy, either. Nathanson has approximately three years left on his contract.

Doran likely to exit

On the United Artists’ side, sources inside the studio indicated that Doran will likely make a transition back into producing, although there is no definite schedule for this changeover.

One scenario that has been raised recently is the merging of United Artists under the MGM label. Sources at MGM, however, said that studio owner Kirk Kerkorian — who bought back from Transamerica the UA name and re-established the two division structure in 1981 — has an affinity for the two labels. Moreover, because the divisions have relatively low overhead costs and share marketing and distribution functions, merging the two is considered unlikely.

UA’s future unclear

It is also possible — and it has been discussed, according to insiders — that UA would be turned into a specialized banner, concentrating on acquisitions and lower-budgeted fare. This is one concept long championed by MGM board member Francis Ford Coppola.

What’s certain is that Yeminidjian and McGurk will have to make some definite decisions regarding the production divisions soon. Only two films have been greenlit for release in 2000, the teen drama “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” and the David Duchovny starrer “Return to Me.”

Sources said that the new management will focus on two or three high profile pics to get into production in the coming months, including MGM’s “First Through the Door” (also know as “Noble Father”) to which Arnold Schwarzenegger is attached to star. MGM also is hashing out deals to proceed with “The Good Shepherd,” a CIA thriller which Robert DeNiro is in talks to direct.

Fox likes library

And while a decision could be a few weeks away, 20th Century Fox seems to be the leading candidate to strike a distrib deal focusing on licensing MGM’s 5,100-film library for international video distribution.

MGM staffers were putting their best face on the $100 million co-production venture the studio signed with Universal as part of McGurk’s exit from the latter. They note that the studio has been slow to join the co-financing brigade and should inevitably benefit from the decreased risk.

While it is still unclear how many pictures are included in the co-production agreement, sources said there are controls in place whereby MGM and Universal each have a say as to which films they co-finance.