CONSIDER THE ANOMALIES of Viacom’s decision to hire Brad Grey.
No studio in memory has ever brought in a head of production so lacking in formal filmmaking credentials of corporate experience.
No power player has ever given up as much autonomy and wealth to become the No. 3 man in an entertainment company.
Grey, at 47, has made well north of $200 million as a personal manager. He will now have to surrender ownership of Brillstein-Grey to his immediate associates, shut down Plan B, his nascent film production unit at Warner Bros., and extricate himself from such bountiful gigs as “The Sopranos,” where he’s been an executive producer.
According to associates, he’s already cut these threads, though still has major financial issues to work out with his new bosses at Viacom. Warner Bros., the same company that years ago forced Sony to pay hundreds of millions to acquire the services of Peter Guber and Jon Peters, apparently let Grey go with a polite handshake.
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Still, a lot of key players were not informed of the negotiations. Hence, some major egos are bent out of shape.
At his new Paramount post, succeeding Sherry Lansing, Grey will have to recruit a new production team. Donald De Line, who campaigned for the job, is expected to say “bye, bye.” In selecting Grey, Tom Freston, Viacom’s co-president, clearly is announcing a sweeping change of policy and style at the troubled studio.
It’s understood that Freston envisions Grey not as a creative guru, but as a master dealmaker who will knit together the team that will greenlight pictures.
In assuming his new duties, Grey has several important things going for him: He’s close to Freston. He has won the confidence of Sumner Redstone, the stalwart numero uno of Viacom. Given his calm, thoughtful demeanor and reputation for honesty and candor, Grey has abundant allies in the entertainment community.
At the same time, detractors point out that his experience on the creative side is marginal. His reputation as a film producer is not helped by credits like “What Planet Are You From” or “City by the Sea.” (His most ambitious film, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” is due out next summer from Warner Bros.)
Then, too, Grey has prospered as a loner, never having worked within the disciplines of a giant corporation — an issue that clearly impeded Michael Ovitz’s misbegotten career at Disney. The difference, of course, is that Grey is respected for his tact and caution. Yet at Paramount he’s clearly been given a mandate to move with bold decisiveness. Had Redstone and Freston wanted to build on the status quo, they easily could have opted for De Line.
“Brad Grey had been eager to try a new adventure,” says the CEO of a rival company who knows him well. “He’s clearly willing to give up a lot to get there.”