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Snider’s Dream may be deferred

Exec faces contract flap

The jockeying between Universal and Paramount over Stacey Snider is about to enter phase two. A pricey financial settlement likely will have to take place or Snider could face a 10-month paid vacation in limboland.

Before Snider can start her job as co-chair and chief executive at DreamWorks she must be released from her Universal contract.

Universal Studios president Ron Meyer relieved Snider of her U duties on Monday, but her Universal employment agreement runs through the end of this year.

So far, Paramount, which owns DreamWorks, has made no request that U release her from the pact. And a studio rep said, “She will start at the expiration of her term. We’re not asking her to start sooner. We understand that it may be Jan. 1, 2007.”

Par is said to be content to let DreamWorks’ legal team, headed by Skip Brittenham, take up her contract situation. Snider plans to discuss

the matter directly with Meyer, but no conversations have taken place yet.

Past precedent proves it can be a costly proposition to spring an executive from a contract.

In 1989, when Sony sought to hire Jon Peters and Peter Guber to run Columbia Pictures, which the electronics firm had just purchased from Coca-Cola, they paid handsomely to free the duo from the five-year production pact they had just inked with Warner Bros.

In exchange for Guber and Peters, Warners demanded — and received after a protracted legal tussle — rights to distrib the Col library on Warner cable nets and a real estate swap in which Warners reclaimed the portion of its Burbank lot controlled by Col in exchange for the former MGM lot in Culver City and a 50% stake in the Columbia House mail-order record biz. Some have valued the settlement at $500 million.

In this situation, U has all the leverage. But if Par, DreamWorks — and Snider — are content to let her sit tight for nearly a year, they won’t be able to use it.