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Par’s Grey area

Friedman out but successor still under wraps

Having replaced its production team, Paramount has now begun a revamp of marketing and distribution. But the identity of the new team is a well-kept secret.

Rob Friedman is out as vice chair and chief operating officer of the motion picture group, a perch that gave him oversight over marketing, distribution, publicity, homevideo and the classics division.

Friedman, 55, had been a staple of the Robert Daly/Terry Semel regime at Warner Bros. before joining Paramount eight years ago. Friedman will move on following the July 22 openings of “Bad News Bears” and “Hustle & Flow” but will consult with the studio on the rest of the studio’s 2005 slate.

Friedman’s departure, announced Tuesday, had been rumored for several months. He’s leaving Par in the middle of a successful summer, with “War of the Worlds” and “The Longest Yard” thus far taking in more than $320 million combined.

“Rob has made many valuable contributions to Paramount’s history,” studio chairman Brad Grey said in a statement. “When he told me several months ago that he wanted to move on, I asked him to stay and open ‘War of the Worlds,’ he agreed, created a fantastic campaign, and the movie was Paramount’s best opening ever.”

Friedman told Daily Variety he’ll take a short break before seeking another showbiz job, but won’t seek a producing deal at Par.

“I’m young, smart and looking for new opportunities,” he added. “I have had a great experience here at Paramount, but I told Brad a few months ago that it was time for me to find new challenges. It has been gratifying to be a part of some of the studio’s greatest successes, and I am very proud of the team I have built here. I am confident that I am leaving the company in good hands.”

Upon his arrival at Par from Warner Bros., Friedman was involved in the domestic marketing and distribution of “Titanic,” which grossed a record $600 million. Other strong performers during his tenure included “Mission: Impossible 2,” “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,” “What Women Want,” “The Sum of All Fears,” “The Italian Job” and “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.”

He also oversaw creation of Paramount Classics, which is releasing “Hustle & Flow.”

With Friedman’s departure, Paramount’s domestic distribution operations are headed by longtime president Wayne Lewellen while its marketing topper is Gerry Rich, who replaced Arthur Cohen last year.

Grey, who officially took over for Sherry Lansing as chairman March 1, has been attempting to aim the studio toward both star-driven tentpoles and projects that are hipper and edgier. In recent deals, the studio managed to cut the budget on “Mission: Impossible 3” and revamp Tom Cruise’s gross deal; signed Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett for “Babel” and “Benjamin Button”; and greenlight a World Trade Center rescue film to star Nicolas Cage and be directed by Oliver Stone.

Grey’s shaken up what had been the town’s most stable executive suite, hiring Gail Berman as studio president to replace Donald De Line, along with promoting Alli Shearmur to co-president of production and hiring former Dimension exec Brad Weston as co-prexy of production. Longtime president of production Karen Rosenfelt has ankled while studio co-prexy Tom Jacobson signed a producing deal.

Grey and Berman have also signed new producing deals with Brad Pitt’s Plan B, director Mark Waters’ Watermark and producer Jason Blum. Longtime kingpin producer Scott Rudin is moving his deal to Disney.

The execs have recently reorganized how Paramount handles projects internally, with each production company assigned to one of four teams of three Par execs.

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