Peter Bart: Corporate Bloodletting & Oscar Uncertainty Add To Exec Suite Pandemic Depression


There are no smiling faces in Hollywood. The industry’s power pyramid last week underwent further upheavals, turning former CEOs and network presidents into job hunters. They will surely be followed shortly by scores of acolytes.

At the same time, virtually every public event surrounding the Oscar and Emmy seasons has now been canceled, thus pulling the red carpet out from under the town’s social life. And then there’s the pandemic.

Normally we would be approaching that time of year when the stars would be sharpening their pitches for the festival and awards circuits, but suddenly they, like the fallen CEOs, have time on their hands. The Motion Picture Academy’s cancellation of screenings and other forms of campaigning for the year will drastically inhibit motion picture promotion in addition to destroying the ecosystems of caterers, stylists and fashion designers among others.

Suddenly, the Academy’s sprawling new screening theater seems like a tomb for lost Oscar expectations, with voters now dependent on DVDs (final year) and the Academy’s digital screening room.

The Oscar show itself, now delayed until April 25, will likely emerge as a show place for ghost movies that few have seen, presided over by stars desperately trying to resuscitate audience appetites.

Some former power players will share their desperation. Among studio chiefs, those with longest continuity, Universal’s Donna Langley and Warner Bros’ Toby Emmerich, have had more bosses than blockbusters. Above Emmerich is Ann Sarnoff, who reports to WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar who ultimately reports to John Stankey. Langley reports to NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell who reports to his Comcast guru Brian Roberts.

Once a symbol of durability, Bob Greenblatt served eight years running Showtime, and another eight at NBC before his recruitment by Stankey. His stint as chairman of WarnerMedia Entertainment lasted 17 months until last week, when he become yet another icon of corporate combustion. Somewhere along the way Paul Telegdy, chairman of NBC Entertainment, also found himself on the sidelines.

For other newly minded executives, however, opportunities present themselves. Bob Chapek can take pride in the glowing introduction of Disney+, but he faces a morass of problems in his theme parks, once his power base. Rarely in corporate history has a new CEO been dispatched into such troubled waters. Meanwhile Emma Watts is taking over as Paramount’s studio chief under Jim Gianopulos (she succeeds Wyck Godfrey, who succeeded Marc Evans, this over a four-year stretch).

Most CEOs, to be sure, have generous termination agreements to ease their career transitions – I have experienced some of them, as well, having twice held a president’s title – but my empathy extends to the waiters and hair dressers and limo drivers and all the others whose budgets will go up in smoke this fall and winter. The awards season has always been a vast energizing force in Hollywood when the various tribal groups intermingle productively.

The sounds of silence will be unnerving.

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