Shmuger, Linde out at Universal

11:36 AM PST 10/05/2009 by Borys Kit, Gregg Kilday

Adam Fogelson taking over as chairman

Responding to his studio's almost year-long boxoffice drought, Universal Studios president Ron Meyer reached into the company's exec ranks for new leadership on Monday.

Marketing topper Adam Fogelson was promoted to Universal Pictures chairman, and Donna Langley -- who has headed production -- was named co-chairman. Vice chairman-COO Rick Finkelstein was given the additional charge of "key strategic adviser."

Fogelson and Langley replace chairmen Marc Shmuger and David Linde, who were ousted despite signing new four-year contracts in January that should mean hefty-payouts and perhaps production deals.

Last among the six major studios with just 8.9% market share his year, Uni has had only high-octane sequel "Fast and Furious" power past the $100 million mark at the domestic boxoffice. "Fast" grossed $155 million domestically and $343 million worldwide.

The studio suffered one of the summer's biggest misfires when the Will Ferrell action-comedy "Land of the Lost" rung up just $49.4 million domestically.

The Uni movies come as execs await word from NBC Universal regarding corporate parent GE's potential deal with Comcast for a controlling stake in the studio. Meyer said the prospect of a change in ownership wasn't a factor the exec changes, noting Uni has had five different owners.

"It was, frankly, time for us to change direction at the studio," Meyer said. "As difficult a decision as it was to make, it was the right time to do it. And we had the right people in place to assume the responsibilities, in Adam, Donna and Rick."

Fogelson, who served as president of marketing and distribution since 2007, will report to Meyer and oversee a worldwide motion picture group that includes film and home entertainment operations.

Production president since 2005, Langley will report to Fogelson. She will continue to oversee production and take on added responsiblities for Focus Features and Working Title films.

Most of Uni's 2010 slate is already in place, with Benicio del Toro starrer "The Wolfman" recently shifted to February, Paul Greengrass' Matt Damon-toplined "Green Zone" set for March, a Robin Hood movie helmed by Ridley Scott and starring Russell Crowe arriving in May and a "Meet the Fockers" comedy sequel hitting in the summer.

Calling 2010 a transition year, the new team doesn't expect to exert its own influence on the studio slate until 2011.

"A lot of what we're doing now is looking back at what we've traditionally done well and how we marry that up with the every-changing tastes of the audiences," Langley said.

Mindful of a declining DVD market, the trio "will be doing a lot more analysis of what provides the best complexion for the best chance of success with the slate," she said.

"We want to make absolutely certain that we are confident that all the risks we take are responsible risks," Fogelson stressed.

Shmuger and Linde's dismissal illustrates how quickly fortunes shift in Hollywood. Like Uni's newest team, they were drafted from the ranks when studio chairman Stacey Snider left in early 2006 to join DreamWorks.

Meyer credited both execs with doing "a great job" guiding the studio "at a time when we could have been destablized."

They successfully ramped up Universal's foreign distribution arm, Universal Pictures International, when Universal and Paramount began disassembling their international co-venture UIP. They also extended deals with major Universal suppliers such as Imagine and Working Title and set deals with toy company Hasbro, comic book company Dark Horse and the estate of Robert Ludlum.

In January, following two consecutive record-breaking years for the studio, Universal extended the two execs' contracts into 2013.

But with the exception of "Fast," Universal's 2009 boxoffice returns hit one setback after another.

Neither the adult-skewing romantic comedy "Duplicity" nor the drama "State of Play" could climb past the $40 million mark. Sacha Baron's Cohen's gonzo comedy "Bruno" took in $60 million but fell well short of the comedian's 2006 "Borat," which had a domestic take of $129 million. And the Adam Sandler comedy "Funny People" stalled at just $52 million.

The studio squeezed domestic returns of $97 million out of the Michael Mann/Johnny Depp gangster movie "Public Enemies" -- and the movie has taken in another $99 million abroad -- but it was still seen as an expensive period exercise.

The duo's ouster comes amid reports of an increasingly fractious film team at Uni, as failure at the boxoffice translated into squabbling on the lot.

"First of all, a great deal of that was blown way out of proportion," Fogelson said. "There have been fewer disagreements or battles between departments here than anyplace else. I think what we've all talked about over the last couple of days is taking advantage of that and finding new ways of putting people from different departments together in rooms more frequently so that everyone has a clear, single vision of what we are all trying to do."

The new team received thumbs up from those inside the Universal City lot, with some saying the move "keeps things in the family."

A marketing exec at the studio since 1998, Fogelson has lent a hand to campaigns for such studio franchises such as "Meet the Parents," "Bourne Identity" and "Fast," as well as on movies such as "Knocked Up" and "Mamma Mia!." He joined Uni in 1998 as vp creative advertising, becoming president of marketing in 2002.

Langley came to Uni from New Line in 2001 as senior vp production. She became production president in 2005 and is credited with playing key roles in attracting filmmakers such as Michael Mann and Clint Eastwood as well as nurturing talents including writer/director Judd Apatow.
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