Michael Wright, the outgoing President and Head of Programming for TNT, TBS and Turner Classic Movies, is opening a new career chapter with a clean slate, taking a top feature job at Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks Studios. His hire as CEO as of January 3 will fill the void left by the departure of DreamWorks chairman and CEO Stacey Snider, who will exit at the beginning of January, likely for the long-rumored job at 20th Century Fox.
Despite Wright’s background, which is entirely in television, his job will be focused on features as he will have responsibility for the creative aspects of DreamWorks’ motion picture business, reporting to Spielberg. Wright will have no involvement in Spielberg’s successful TV production company, the independent Amblin TV, which will remain in its current structure as a partnership between Spielberg, Justin Falvey and Darryl Frank, with Falvey and Frank running it. The company has seven series on the air, plus Halo, which is taking flight, a big Minority Report pitch and pilot Lumen with a blinking green light at TNT.
It was through Amblin’s relationship at TNT, where the company has two series — Falling Skies and the upcoming Public Morals — as well as Lumen, in addition to previous miniseries Into The West, that Spielberg got to know Wright and decided to entrust him with the top position in his feature company. First off for Wright will be to learn more about the film business. He will work with the team that is in place: Jeff Small, president and COO; Holly Bario, president, production, and Kristie Macosko Krieger, producer. “I have had the pleasure of working alongside Michael for many years and have come to know him as a talented executive whose creative vision, leadership, and passion are a perfect fit for our company,” Spielberg said. “He has a keen understanding of storytelling and how to deliver those stories in every shape and size, regardless of platform. I am delighted to welcome him to DreamWorks Studios.”
It is not a very busy time at DreamWorks, partnered with India’s Reliance, as the studio has paired down its movie output in the past couple of years. In the past year it has had the Aaron Paul-starrer Need For Speed, the videogame adaptation that grossed $43.6M domestically. Last month came The Hundred-Foot Journey, which has grossed $42.1M to date. It begins production this month on The Light Between Oceans, with Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, and Rachel Weisz starring and Derek Cianfrance directing his scripted adaptation of the M.L. Stedman novel. It also is in talks with Margot Robbie to star in the Rupert Sanders-directed Ghost In The Shell.
In addition, Spielberg has two pics in the mix. One is the untitled Cold War spy project starring Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance and Amy Ryan in the story of James Donovan, an attorney sent by the CIA to negotiate the release of a captured American U-2 pilot. Filming is set to start next month in New York and Berlin. Following that is the children’s fantasy adventure The BFG, an adaptation of the Roald Dahl children’s book.
Wright, who had been a contender to replace Steve Koonin as head of Turner Entertainment Networks, left TNT on a high as the cable network logged its strongest summer performance in half a decade, ranking as the No. 1 basic cable network in primetime. Its ratings success was fueled by launching a breakout hit in The Last Ship and solid deliveries by Rizzoli & Isles and Major Crimes. During his 12 years at Turner, Wright also oversaw development of The Closer, Falling Skies and Cold Justice, TBS’ King Of The Nerds and the network’s off-network acquisition of The Big Bang Theory. He was also part of the team that recruited Conan O’Brien for a late-night show on TBS.