UPDATE: The studio has made this official. (See release below.)
BREAKING… SHOCKER! In a shocking development, Adam Fogelson will exit his post as Universal Pictures chairman, with Jeff Shell taking over Universal Studios. Ron Meyer is becoming the sole vice chairman of NBC Universal through 2017, and Donna Langley has been promoted chairman of Universal Pictures. Shell, who comes from the studio’s parent company Comcast, had been running Universal International. With that strong international background under his belt, he is coming to Hollywood.
To say this is a stunner is an understatement. I saw the Universal gang last night in Toronto for a drink before the premiere of the Ron Howard-directed Rush, and if he knew there was something amiss at the time, Fogelson is a world–class actor. They all headed back this morning and the change was made while they were flying. That’s when the turbulence hit.
Fogelson had the studio on a roll but his emphasis was on domestic distribution and marketing first. Given Shell’s expertise, the mandate going forward will be to emphasize a global game plan. The prospect that a Shell game was in the works, in this exact scenario, was rumored months ago, when Shell bought a house in Hollywood. But they were denied by the studio at the time. After weathering rumors that Comcast tried to get DreamWorks partner Stacey Snider to return to Universal, or that longtime chief Meyer would retire, all the rumors died down. Fogelson, a level-headed exec who came out of marketing to take the top job and replace Marc Shmuger, seemed to be on stronger footing with Langley. After weathering a rough period including losers like Battleship, the motion picture group turned the corner last year with hits like Ted, and was doing better than a lot of other studios lately, and they are No. 2 in market share behind Warner Bros. Both of them were re-upped in late 2011 through 2014.
The momentum certainly helps Langley, who has taste and strong relationships with talent, something that will help Shell as he gets going. The studio has the stability of the hit-making family film division, Chris Meledandri’s Illumination Entertainment, and a coterie of long term producing deals with the likes of Working Title partners Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner, Imagine Entertainment’s Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, and Scott Stuber. They also just made an overall deal with Legendary Pictures, Thomas Tull’s financing and producing company which left Warner Bros. (more…)