Mike De Luca has turned down the offer to become Paramount Pictures’ picture picker and will stay a producer at Universal Pictures, Deadline has confirmed. Viacom chief Bob Bakish still is hoping hard that former Fox chief Jim Gianopulos will replace Brad Grey as chairman, but the notion of having De Luca work for Gianopulos as chief production executive seemed a tantalizing possibility for a resurgence of a studio that lost more than $400 million in 2016 and saw several major franchises — Star Trek and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles — fail. But De Luca, who had a storied early run as production president at New Line and held president posts at DreamWorks and Sony Pictures, likely wanted the top job, particularly at a flagging studio that could really have used his talents.
Bakish has met with resistance from several aspirants for jobs there. These blue-chip executives — Studio 8 principal and former Warner Bros production chief Jeff Robinov also has been in the mix — want to be sure that Viacom is ready to commit the needed funds to overhaul a studio that has finished in the cellar too many years, as former Viacom chairman Philippe Dauman prized buying back shares more than spending to keep pace with rivals such as Fox, Universal and Disney.
While Viacom has talked a good game since Shari Redstone ousted Dauman, Bakish’s insistence on a plan to brand movies with Viacom TV networks and to limit the greenlight power of Grey’s replacement is just not going to fly with an executive like Gianopulos, who still could form a formidable tandem with Mary Parent at Legendary. The precarious situation involving a three-year co-financing deal with Chinese companies Shanghai Film Group and Huahua Media also hasn’t helped instill confidence in Paramount.
De Luca’s decision to remain a producer at Universal makes sense from a lifestyle perspective. He moved to Fort Worth with his wife and kids (though he spends four days a week in Hollywood), has a lucrative producing deal at Universal and an easy relationship with his former New Line comrade Donna Langley. He also could return with Jennifer Todd and produce another Oscarcast; they did one of the best Oscars in recent years, excepting the Best Picture screwup, and they will likely want to another chance.
The development ratchets up the importance of finding a way to make things work with Gianopulos. He had a stellar track record at Fox, but his expertise isn’t as a creative executive as much as in areas like global distribution. If Gianopulos says no, where does that leave Viacom?
The move to replace Grey has been filled with twists and turns in recent weeks that included an early courtship of Universal-based producer and former studio co-vice chairman Scott Stuber. He is instead expected to imminently take a more disruptive post: He’ll become head of feature film for Netflix. It seems likely that Viacom will try to lock in Gianopulos and allow him to supervise a studio overhaul and choose a star executive to build franchises.
Variety was first up with De Luca news today.