The week began with the exit of Brad Grey as Paramount chairman and CEO, and ends with a flurry of meetings that Viacom chief Bob Bakish and HR guy Scott Mills conducted with a swelling list of potential replacements. Here’s a little gossip that people will be talking about this weekend, along with a collective dread associated with a possible WGA strike when that contract ends in May.
The list of candidates who either met with Bakish, or will on his next trip to LA, includes former Lionsgate/Summit chief Rob Friedman; Studio 8 principal and former Warner Bros chief Jeff Robinov; former Universal exec-turned-producer Scott Stuber; former New Line, DreamWorks and Sony exec-turned-producer Mike De Luca. Also hearing former Warner Bros production chief Greg Silverman and Fox chairman Jim Gianopulos, who’ve apparently not yet met, will likely have meetings. Current Legendary chief Mary Parent was asked, but I’ve learned that she declined to take a meeting, meaning she’ll stay with the Wanda-owned company.
Gianopulos has been out of the country and still seems a stronger bet for Legendary, where he might also have oversight of Wanda’s exhibition holdings, or replacing Michael Lynton at Sony. The emergence of Stuber as a real candidate is surprising; while he once shared the vice chairman of worldwide production title with Parent at Universal, Stuber usually turns down these overtures and has been content producing films at Universal. I’ve heard it is possible the choice could be to team someone like Stuber with De Luca or Parent, as there was an emphasis on getting a chairman who could quickly exploit strong ties in the creative community to kick-start future slates.
While some have wondered why this A-list would covet the job when Paramount doesn’t have near the overall diversified ballast of majors like Fox, Universal and Disney, those in the mix say these jobs don’t grow on trees and if you were ever going to try coming in to rebuild up and make a mark, you’d want to do it coming off a $400-plus million loss under the previous regime in 2016. The candidate roster indicates that Viacom might want a topper with a creative background, and it certainly seems like Bakish — an outsider who has made a nice impression in these meetings as a straightforward guy — will want to fill this post in a matter of a couple of weeks.
There are impediments, though; Bakish has professed a desire for branded film tie-ins with its networks, but it is a lot easier to create a silo system when your silos are Pixar and Marvel than when you are tying movies to flagging networks like BET, MTV, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central. As one said, you don’t even know the brand connotation for a show on one of those networks, so how would that benefit a feature?
The other issue is green light power. It looks like the job holder won’t have it, unlike peers at other studios. Will that neuter the new chairman as he sits in a room with a major filmmaker, when someone in New York is making the ultimate call? Grey bristled at that request, sources said, and it’s one reason Bakish was out here taking meetings.