SHOCKER! FOX SHAKEUP: Tom Rothman Exiting 20th Film Group; Jim Gianopulos Becomes Sole Chairman/CEO; 20th TV’s Dana Walden & Gary Newman Now Report To News Corp #2 Chase Carey

By Nikki Finke, Mike Fleming Jr

We scooped at 3:20 PM today that longtime Fox Filmed Entertainment Co-Chairman Tom Rothman is exiting the studio at the end of the year. The brilliant but arrogant 59-year-old Rothman’s departure breaks up the longest major studio mogul pairing in recent history. In fact, he and co-Chairman/CEO Gianopulos were considered model moguls for running a studio cheaply, efficiently, and profitably – and their rivals were openly envious of their track record. Now the film biz will be “consolidated” under Gianopulos who’ll be sole Chairman/CEO of what will now be called Twentieth Century Fox Film.

The studio shakeup also affects TV operations, which will be “realigned”: the very successful duo of Twentieth TV heads Dana Walden and Gary Newman won’t have to report to Rothman or Gianopulos any longer. The TV execs considered that a slap in the face and lobbied to stop it. They now will run a stand alone unit under News Corp and report directly to News Corp No. 2 Chase Carey. Today News Corp Chairman Rupert Murdoch praised them effusively as “unquestionably one of the best creative teams in the television business.”

Tom RothmanThough in truth this is an amicable parting of the ways, the word around Hollywood is that Rothman was fired before he could jump ship. (Memos and releases below). Sources tell us that Rothman’s News Corp bosses were annoyed that he was aggressively seeking the top job at Universal Studios from Comcast. (Not Ron Meyer’s President/COO job per se, but the long vacant Chairman/CEO gig that would also put the TV studio under him.) And he did himself no favors when he opposed the new Fox distribution deal with DreamWorks Animation orchestrated last month by Gianopulos. In addition it’s been Gianopulos who has maintained the close working relationship with studio star talent James Cameron, not Rothman, and will see the studio through the much-anticipated Avatar 2 and 3.

But probably more damaging to Rothman was the perception inside and outside Fox that he often ran roughshod over Hollywood reps and talent to preserve the studio’s bottom line. And that he also micromanaged the studio executives and staff so that morale suffered. As a result, he was increasingly unpopular in the film community. (It also didn’t help that he was the on-air host for the Fox Legacy series on the Fox Movie Channel and seen as pompously providing background intel on the making of films.)

Going forward at Twentieth Film, our insiders say Emma Watts “will get more freedom to do her job,” while Gianopulos will step up oversight instead of focusing on international. “It was time for a change. Tom wants to do something different. He had an amazing run and is a huge part of our success over the past two decades. Jim is a great leader. We’re in amazing hands,” one insider tells us. Says another, “Tom and Jim could not be more different in how they approach business. Tom is very creative and hands-on but thinks he’s always the smartest guy around. Jim is more personable. He lets people do their jobs while respecting and nurturing the instincts of creative talent.”

What Rothman will do next is unknown, but an exec with his vast experience and relationships and fiscal prudence will be much in demand. (“I feel like he has something up his sleeve”, a source tells us. However, it was made clear to us today not to expect that he’ll be heading up Universal for Comcast next.) In a goodbye memo, Rothman himself said today, “I’m proud as hell of [my] run. But I’ve done the same thing, at the same place, for a long time (indeed, in the 75 year history of our studio, no one has supervised movies for longer except Darryl Zanuck himself). I do need some new challenges and to write a new chapter.”

Today’s shocker follows yet another lackluster summer box office for Twentieth Century Fox live action films, capping several years of missteps and misfires, and as a result Hollywood has been abuzz for months that Rothman was about to receive the ax. Especially embarrassing was this summer’s huge worldwide success of Ted, a Media Rights Capital movie project from Twentieth TV star Seth MacFarlane that Rothman turned down — against the pleas of Newman and Walden — and which went on to make a fortune for Universal Pictures. On the other hand, Rothman passed on Battleship, Universal’s big-budget humiliating summer loser.

But it’s also important to note that overall the film studio’s performance in recent years was still #1 or #2 for profit margins “which is what Rupert wants”, an insider reminds us. And Rothman had a great deal to do with that and the film studio’s tremendous success over the years. Rothman has supervised filmmaking activities at Fox for over 18 years.  (more…)

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