I first heard from insiders around June 22nd that New Line Cinema marketing chief Russell Schwartz’s job was in jeopardy. So much so that studio boss Bob Shaye was quietly interviewing replacements. No, not because of Snakes On A Plane, which was DOA, but because of Shaye’s own directorial disaster The Last Mimzy, which went AWOL at the box office. (New Line spent a fortune marketing it, complete with toy-bribed sneaks, yet only mustered a $9.6 mil weekend from 3,017 venues.) I was told Schwartz’s fate after six years in the gig ultimately depended on how Hairspray and Rush Hour 3 performed later this summer. Well, Hairspray opened better than it deserved at $27.4 million, and Rush Hour 3 should debut this weekend with a respectable $45+ million. So why is Schwartz gone? Because Shaye couldn’t admit that Mimzy which he’d directed so badly had failed at the box office on its own. He had to blame someone else, so he blamed Schwartz for poorly marketing it. And kept blaming him, and blaming him — even when Russell had proved himself all over again this summer. (Yes, Mimzy has been doing well on DVD, but I want to see with my own eyes whether Shaye himself is buying up every copy. After all, he’s rich as Croesus.)
Of course, Schwartz could only be as good at his job as New Line’s recent pics, which have been lousy of late. Not that Schwartz didn’t have his detractors. “For my money, he is an over-rated hack. He couldn’t market his way out of Gelson’s, and that is why Bob let him go,” a rival studio exec told me today. But the real story here is Shaye. Take, for instance, the way he keeps treating directors who’ve helmed profitably for New Line. Not only has Shaye alienated Peter Jackson to the point of a lawsuit (and missed out on some potentially lucrative or Oscar-worthy projects, including what would have been Jackson’s slam dunk version of The Hobbit), but the New Line chief recently pissed off Brett Ratner besides. Granted, Ratner’s an idiot, yet one who’s made millions for New Line and as a result deserves a little studio gratitude. Still, I don’t call Shaye ‘Lord Of The Rants’ for no reason. He recently went public to blame Rush Hour 3‘s budget overages on Ratner, even calling it “a betrayal of the trust New Line has put into him.” If all of the above isn’t reason enough for Time Warner not to renew Shaye’s contract expiring in 2008, I don’t what is.