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Jim Gianopulos Named Paramount Chairman/CEO (EXCLUSIVE)

UPDATED: Jim Gianopulos will be named chairman and CEO of Paramount Pictures, succeeding Brad Grey, who was pushed out in February after running the studio for 12 years. The deal was concluded in recent days and was formally announced on Monday.

In Gianopulos, the former head of 20th Century Fox’s movie studio, Paramount gets a veteran executive with a deep knowledge of both the global marketplace and the way that emerging technologies are upending old business models. The 64-year-old Gianopulos also boasts close relationships with agents, business executives, and such filmmakers as Paul Feig and James Cameron. During his time at Fox, the studio made such blockbusters as “Avatar,” “Life of Pi,” and “Deadpool,” as well as the Oscar-winning “12 Years a Slave” and “Birdman.”

But the task he faces is daunting. Paramount has lagged behind the competition in box office returns and in creating the kind of global franchises that are prized by studios. He will be charged with cranking up Paramount’s lagging film production operation, which is in last place among the major studios. He will also need to re-engage with a creative community that often saw Paramount as a studio of last resort for their projects. Paramount corporate parent Viacom has publicly said they want the studio to forge stronger creative and business ties with corporate cousins such as Nickelodeon, BET, CMT, Comedy Central, and VH1. The company’s CEO Bob Bakish has stated that he would like to see each of the cable properties develop one to two films a year and he would like Paramount films to inspire television programming.

In a statement, Bakish emphasized Gianopulos’ experience, saying, “Jim is a remarkably talented executive with all the tools — strategic vision, strong business expertise, deep industry and creative relationships — to bring films to life that resonate throughout culture and deliver commercial results.”

In a separate statement Gianopulos said, “Paramount is one of Hollywood’s truly iconic studios, and the role it has played in shaping the entertainment industry cannot be overstated. Looking ahead, I see a strong opportunity to position the studio for success by creating valuable franchise opportunities, developing fresh creative ventures, and mining Viacom’s deep brand portfolio to bring exciting new narratives to life.”

Upon taking the job, Gianopulos’ top priority will be to find a No. 2; film producer Michael De Luca was offered the vice chairman role by Viacom but turned the opportunity down.

Over the past several months, Gianopulos was in serious negotiations with Wanda to lead Legendary Entertainment. He had also been pursued by Sony Pictures to replace outgoing chief Michael Lynton as CEO. Gianopulos has made no secret of the fact that he was not ready to retire when Fox pushed him upstairs last summer and named Stacey Snider as its sole studio chairman. At that time, he was given a vague advisory position, but ultimately decided to leave the studio in September.

Paramount will also need to sort out its financing. Shortly before he was pushed out, Grey secured a $1 billion slate financing deal from two Chinese companies, Huahua Media and Shanghai Film Group, but there have been reports that the money has stopped. With $12 billion in debt, Viacom is itself heavily leveraged, which could complicate funding the kind of ambitious array of films that Paramount will need to make if it wants to reverse its fortunes.

Before being named co-chair of Fox along with Tom Rothman, Gianopulos was president of 20th Century Fox International. Prior to joining the company, he held senior positions at Columbia Pictures and Paramount, and was an attorney specializing in entertainment law.

Gianopulos’ hire was announced the day before Paramount will make its presentation on upcoming releases to theater owners at CinemaCon, the annual exhibition industry conference unfolding this week in Las Vegas.

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