UPDATED: Viacom CEO Bob Bakish is expected to name Jim Gianopulos chairman and CEO of Paramount Pictures, in what would be a triumphant resurrection for the longtime entertainment veteran after he was unceremoniously dumped last June from his job atop 20th Century Fox, two sources told Variety.
Viacom is also heavily courting producer and former production executive Michael De Luca to be Gianopulos’ top lieutenant. The 51-year-old producer of the “Fifty Shades of Grey” films and, most recently, the 89th Academy Awards, would report to Gianopulos, who would likely name him vice chairman, if all goes as planned. De Luca would be tasked with strengthening Paramount’s relationships in the creative community and with developing sorely needed new franchises. Gianopulos is known for his strong management skills and has a firm grasp of the global entertainment business, having headed up the international operation of Fox for years, and deep knowledge of the technological forces that are reshaping the business.
Neither Gianopulos nor De Luca have been made formal offers yet, according to knowledgeable sources. Gianopulos, 65, has been in serious talks with Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda to head Legendary Entertainment, as it prepares for a massive expansion in the United States. Sources say that Wanda has assured Gianopulos it would invest hundreds of millions to build Legendary into a major production, marketing, and distribution machine.
A person close to De Luca stressed that he has not made a final decision about taking the job, even if offered.
Viacom did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In the eyes of many in Hollywood, Gianopulos would perfectly fit the bill as someone who could potentially turn around Paramount. He is already tempered by many seasons at the top of the Hollywood studio firmament and is an executive well-liked by his peers, by talent and by their agents who play a crucial role in determining which studios get the most sought-after projects.
De Luca previously served as president of production at Sony Pictures Entertainment. He left in 2015 to take a production deal at Universal Pictures, which allowed him continue making the lucrative “Fifty Shades” films, among other projects. Some people who know him said that he relishes the idea of returning to the top executive ranks at a studio. He divides his time between Fort Worth, Texas, where his family lives, and Los Angeles.
Paramount is in desperate need of new leadership. Gianopulos would take over the struggling studio from Brad Grey, who was ousted last month by Bakish after his 12-year tenure at the studio ended in a string of costly flops, declining production, and frayed relationships with important filmmakers and stars. Paramount has produced too few dependable franchises like the “Star Trek” and “Mission: Impossible” films, and has suffered a long string of failed experiments with sequels and remakes that include last year’s “Zoolander 2” and “Ben-Hur” and original films like “Allied” — starring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard — that seemed badly out of step with the times.
The former Fox studio boss would be responsible for turning around a Paramount operation that has lost hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years and finished in the basement among the major studios in the domestic box office standings for five calendar years running. The studio that once released “Titanic” and “Braveheart” even slipped behind Lionsgate in two of those years.
If hired, it would also fall to Gianopulos and De Luca to lift the spirits on the Melrose Ave. studio lot. Insiders say Paramount has been directionless for much of the past year, as Shari Redstone and Viacom chief Philippe Dauman jockeyed for control. Redstone and her ailing father, media mogul Sumner Redstone, engineered the removal of Dauman. Bakish was named CEO of Viacom in December. The new Viacom boss soon signaled that he had little patience for the under-performance of Paramount, which the aged Redstone once considered a crown jewel of his media empire. Two months after taking Viacom’s top job, Bakish gave Grey the boot.
Brent Lang contributed to this report.