After two weeks of speculation, Jim Gianopulos’s ascent to the top of Paramount Pictures as Chairman and CEO appears to be close to being made official by the studio’s corporate parent, Viacom Inc. — putting the flagging studio in the hands of an industry veteran known for working collegially with talent, agents and business executives in the insular community that is Hollywood.
A deal could be announced as soon as this week. Reps for both Gianopulos and Viacom declined to comment.
Initially, Viacom wanted to impose too many controls on Gianopulos, but he pushed back, according to people familiar with the negotiations. Instead, it is understood that Viacom has walked that back and is expected to give Gianopulos full greenlight authority for movies costing up to $100 million. He will replace Brad Grey, who was pushed out at Paramount last month after 12 years running the studio.
Gianopulos has also been pursued by Sony Pictures to replace outgoing chief Michael Lynton as CEO. In recent weeks he met with Sony Corp. leader Kaz Hirai, sources said. One of the big stumbling blocks for Gianopulos could be that if he wanted his own lieutenant at the Culver City studio, he would have to replace Tom Rothman, his former co-chair at 20th Century Fox, who heads the movie division.
At Paramount, Gianopulos will be charged with cranking up the studio’s flagging film production operation and re-engaging with alienated creatives. Along with a mandate to boost Paramount’s bottom line with a more consistent stream of hits and the development of new franchises, he will also need to improve morale at the Melrose Ave. studio, which has in recent years been plagued by a string of money losing films, executive turnover and problems at Viacom, its parent company.
It was originally believed that “Fifty Shades of Grey” producer Michael De Luca was going to be hired as Gianopulos’s vice chairman, but De Luca passed on that opportunity.
Once Gianopulos is installed at Paramount, he will begin his search for a top lieutenant, sources say.
The soon-to-be new studio chief will collaborate more closely with Paramount’s corporate cousins inside Viacom — Nickelodeon, BET, CMT, Comedy Central, VH1. That’s the directive that the conglomerate’s CEO, Bob Bakish, gave in early February. Viacom’s networks and its Hollywood studio need to stop operating in silos and begin to share content and IP, to help improve performance in all of the units, Bakish said.
Gianopulos has a big job in front of him to turn around Paramount, which has slipped to last place among major studios in terms of market share in recent years. It is not the first or even the second choice for many filmmakers to take their projects, and in the past executives have complained that Viacom brass was more interested in managing for quarterly profitability than investing in a long-term vision. It typically takes three years for a newly installed studio head to see the projects they develop hit theaters, meaning a turnaround will require patience and persistence.
These kinds of overhauls also take a great deal of capital. Before leaving, Grey closed slate financing deals with Shanghai Film Group and Huahua Media that could provide as much as $1 billion in funding. But that deal is in jeopardy. And, Viacom is heavily leveraged — carrying roughly $12 billion of debt on its books.
Gianopulos will have to figure out a way to create a slate of films that can compete with the likes of Disney, with its arsenal of Marvel, Pixar and Star Wars films, and Warner Bros., with a franchise-rich list of properties that includes Batman and Harry Potter.
Two weeks ago, Gianopulos, who recently lost his job as the chairman of Fox and was in serious negotiations with Wanda to lead Legendary Entertainment, suddenly become the top candidate for the Paramount job.
Insiders say that Paramount has been directionless for much of the past year, as former Viacom chairman Philippe Dauman and Shari Redstone, daughter of company founder Sumner Redstone, jockeyed for control. Their corporate battle was waged in courtrooms on both coasts, ending in Dauman being forced out last fall. With the company’s leadership in flux, a sense of stasis set in at Paramount — few new projects were greenlit and producers describe a feeling of anxiety and uncertainty among top executives.