You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Paramount Needs to Fatten Up Skimpy Film Slate

A decade ago I wrote a column about Brad Grey just as he had assumed his new role as chief of Paramount. I issued dire warnings about the challenges he would inevitably face making the transition from the town’s top talent manager to studio chief. Re-invention in mid-career certainly did not work out well for David Begelman, a fabulously successful agent whose stint as Columbia’s CEO almost landed him in jail. Michael Ovitz brilliantly ran CAA but promptly self-immolated at Disney as did producer David Puttnam at Columbia and agent John Lesher at Paramount.

Grey seemed destined for a similar fate at Paramount. In his first months at his new gig, the press pounded him relentlessly: His appointments were deemed inept (TV executive Gail Berman was hired and fired as head of movie production). Stories about his litigation with former client Garry Shandling hinted at dark dealings with phone-hacker Anthony Pellicano. Then came the headline-making blowup with DreamWorks, with David Geffen and Steven Spielberg marching their troops off the lot. Then Grey’s boss, Sumner Redstone, abruptly fired Tom Cruise over his greedy demands and weird off-screen behavior.

Now, 10 years later, Grey has defied predictions that his personal mid-career transition would be as disastrous as those of his predecessors. He seems very much in control at Paramount and the press has stopped beating up on him.

But it has become very clear that Grey now faces a new job of re-invention — this time of his studio. Paramount’s movie slate has become so thin that the studio has all but disappeared (its first major release will be mid-summer). Though the studio’s press releases have stressed profitability, yearly profits have declined three years in a row, down 12% last year alone. Meanwhile, Paramount’s parent company, Viacom, is imposing major layoffs under pressure from ratings declines at its cable networks. According to analyst Roger Smith, Viacom’s studio revenues have fallen every year save one since 2008 from $6 billion to $3.7 billion (there were disastrous tumbles in homevideo revenues in that period). CBS, under Les Moonves, has remained a bright spot in Redstone’s corporate universe.

Grey is sending signals that he intends to spark a resurgence at Paramount. Dismissing his production chief, Adam Goodman, he is trusting Goodman’s deputy, Marc Evans, to increase the annual film slate from six to between 12 and 14 films a year. The search is on for new franchises to bolster the aging “Star Trek” and “Transformers,” and Grey himself is focused on bolstering the animation pipeline and resusitating Paramount’s television initiatives.

In tackling all this, Grey has a credibility problem to overcome. He has proclaimed ambitious plans in the past to bolster Paramount’s annual slate, and has named ambitious executives, with little follow-through. The job of production chief has become a revolving door.

Nonetheless, a prospective studio resurgence is all the more relevant now that Wall Street is floating various corporate scenarios that might unfold at the end of the Sumner Redstone era. Insiders believe that, contrary to speculation, Redstone’s long-entrenched personal consiglieris will ensure a smooth transition; still corporate rivalries exist within the empire and takeover specialists avidly eye Viacom’s vast landscape.

Those close to Grey testify that he exhibits no such tensions. Soft spoken and canny, Grey clearly has mastered the laws of corporate survival. As far as he’s concerned, the first 10 years mark only the beginning.

More Voices

  • Contract Placeholder Business WGA ATA Agent

    WGA, Agents Face Tough Issues on New Franchise Pact (Column)

    The Writers Guild of America and the major talent agencies are seven weeks away from a deadline that could force film and TV writers to choose between their agents and their union. This is a battle that has been brewing for a year but few in the industry saw coming until a few weeks ago. [...]

  • FX Confronts Streaming Thanks to Disney

    Kicking and Screaming, FX Is Forced to Confront Future in the Stream (Column)

    During his network’s presentation at the winter Television Critics Assn. press tour, FX chief John Landgraf made waves — and headlines — by mounting perhaps his most direct criticism yet of Netflix. Landgraf, whose briefings to the press tend to rely heavily on data about the volume of shows with which FX’s competitors flood the [...]

  • Longtime TV Editor Recalls Working for

    How a Bad Director Can Spoil the Show (Guest Column)

    I have been blessed with editing some of TV’s greatest shows, working with some of the industry’s greatest minds. “The Wonder Years,” “Arrested Development,” “The Office,” “Scrubs,” “Pushing Daisies” and, most recently, “A Series of Unfortunate Events.” I have earned an Emmy, ACE Eddie Awards, and many nominations. But whatever kudos I’ve received, over my [...]

  • Stock market Stock buyback

    Stock Buybacks Leave Firms Without Funds to Invest in Future (Column)

    Corporate giants on the S&P 500 have spent more than $720 billion during the past year on stock buybacks. Media and entertainment firms account for only a fraction of that spending, but even $1 million spent on share repurchases seems a foolhardy expenditure at this transformational moment for the industry. The record level of spending [...]

  • Hollywood Has Come Far With Diversity

    An Insider's Look at Hollywood's Diversity Efforts and How Far It Still Needs to Go

    I am a white man working in Hollywood. I grew up in Beverlywood, an all-white, predominantly Jewish, Los Angeles neighborhood sandwiched between 20th Century Fox Studios and MGM, where my elementary school had only one black student. I am compelled to write about diversity in Hollywood because “diversity” — in front of and behind the camera [...]

  • Venice Film Festival A Star is

    How Venice, Toronto and Telluride Festivals Stole Cannes' Luster (Column)

    In all the years I’ve been attending film festivals, I have never seen a lineup that looked as good on paper as Venice’s did this fall, boasting new films by Alfonso Cuarón (“Roma”), Damien Chazelle (“First Man”), Paul Greengrass (“22 July”), Mike Leigh (“Peterloo”) and the Coen brothers (“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”) in competition, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content