UPDATED: Paramount Pictures chairman and CEO Brad Grey is in talks with his bosses at Viacom to step aside and take on a new role with the company, a long-rumored shift that would come after five years of dismal results at the film studio, two sources confirmed Friday.
Grey’s possible departure comes after a long series of box office flops, far outnumbering hits, and upheaval in the top executive ranks. Though a replacement has not yet been chosen, several sources said that it is possible the job will go, at least on a temporary basis, to Amy Powell, Paramount’s president of television and digital entertainment.
The talks between Grey and Viacom’s leadership, including CEO Bob Bakish, were continuing into the afternoon Friday and might not be resolved until Monday or Tuesday, according to one of the sources.
Grey, a former talent manager, has had a tumultuous run. Despite some nurturing successful franchises like “Transformers” and “Mission: Impossible,” and fielding Oscar winners like “The Big Short” and “The Wolf of Wall Street,” Paramount has dramatically shrunk the number of films it releases annually and tumbled to the bottom of the studio rankings in terms of market share.
In each of the last five calendar years, Paramount has finished behind all of the five other major Hollywood studios. In two of those years, Grey’s studio even slipped into seventh place, ending up behind Lionsgate. Paramount has to reach back to 2011, when it backed hits like “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” and “Thor” to find a year when it finished out of the basement. The Melrose Avenue studio was No. 1 that year.
Grey was closely aligned with Philippe Dauman, the former CEO and chairman of Paramount’s parent company, Viacom. Dauman was pushed out last year in a bruising battle for control of the media conglomerate that pitted him against Shari Redstone, daughter of Viacom founder Sumner Redstone. Grey engaged in a long charm offensive with Shari Redstone, taking her to dinner with stars like Brad Pitt and Meryl Streep. He tried to argue that Dauman’s penny-pinching prevented the studio from taking creative risks.
Short of stature and soft of speech, Grey was nevertheless a teflon executive, enduring management shakeups, box office setbacks, and an ailing corporate chairman in Sumner Redstone that would have leveled more mortal studio apparatchiks. During his tenure, he maintained allies like Pitt and Martin Scorsese, but also feuded with the likes of Jeffrey Katzenberg, whose DreamWorks Animation had an unhappy distribution alliance with the studio, and his former client Gary Shandling, with whom he engaged in a lengthy legal feud. At one point during his tenure, Grey became embroiled in the trial of private investigator Anthony Pellicano. He was accused of using the wire-tapper to spy on people, but despite a wave of embarrassing headlines, he avoided legal liability
Prior to joining Paramount, Grey formed a partnership with talent manager Bernie Brillstein. Together they formed Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, which helped package such iconic shows as “The Larry Sanders Show,” “News Radio,” and “The Sopranos.” He also teamed with Jennifer Aniston and Pitt to create Plan B, which produced the likes of “The Departed” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
Paramount declined to comment.