Fox Shake-Up: Jim Gianopulos Plots Next Move as Suitors Come Calling
Jim Gianopulos has served as chairman-CEO of 20th Century Fox film for 16 years, longer than any of his counterparts currently in charge of the five other major Hollywood studios.
That enviable run ends Sept. 1 when Gianopulos will be succeeded by his co-chairman, Stacey Snider. The change at the top was considered internally to be a power play orchestrated by Lachlan and James Murdoch — one that Gianopulos didn't see coming as the siblings take control of the empire shaped by their father, Rupert Murdoch. Despite some box-office misfires this year, Fox has enjoyed a lengthy period of relative stability during Gianopulos' tenure, so few expected him to be pushed aside.
But Gianopulos isn't ready to retire at age 64, according to friends and other sources, even if Fox is the only workplace he's known these past 24 years (he first joined to run the international side after stints at Columbia and Paramount). Widely respected, Gianopulos would appear to have several options. Sources confirm he's on the radar to potentially run Paramount should there be a regime change at the Viacom film unit. Gianopulos wasn't a free agent until recent days when he began finalizing his early exit package (he initially was set to leave Fox when his contract expires in summer 2017).
Gianopulos wouldn't be the only ousted film studio chief to find himself a phoenix rising from the ashes. In 2012, Alan Horn was named chairman of Walt Disney Studios at age 69, a year after being fired as president-COO of Warner Bros. Today, Horn runs the most successful major studio in town.
Hollywood's rumor mill went into overdrive when 21st Century Fox first announced the Snider succession plan in June, with some speculating Gianopulos would be an obvious candidate for a job at Paramount or Warner Bros. Insiders say there is no truth to the Warners speculation.
And Gianopulos, who has deep international ties, including in China, already is being approached by Chinese and other foreign financiers interested in having him run their entertainment operations or provide money for him to set up a new venture. After leaving Warner Bros., Jeff Robinov set up Studio 8 in partnership with the Chinese conglomerate Fosun Group and Sony Pictures Entertainment. Earlier this year, China's Dalian Wanda Group paid $3.5 billion for Legendary Entertainment, while Robert Simonds' STX Entertainment also is backed in part by Chinese investors, underscoring the appetite for a Hollywood foothold.
Still, the chance to run another major Hollywood studio obviously would be enticing.
Earlier this week, a Viacom filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission revealed that interim CEO Tom Dooley and the board have instructed Paramount chief Brad Grey and his team to present a blueprint for the studio's future after a dismal run at the box office that has left Paramount last in market share this year. And in an unusual move, the filing also states the board may require Paramount to seek its approval before making certain transactions, such as "co-production, co-financing, or other financing activities, significant output agreements or distribution services agreements in domestic and major international territories" and "'first look' or term deals with particular talent."
Dooley is taking over CEO duties from Philippe Dauman, who will depart Viacom on Sept. 13 and still has time to convince the board to sell a minority stake in Paramount. Grey, who runs the studio in tandem with vice chairman Rob Moore, was installed as Paramount chairman-CEO 11 years ago; his contract runs through 2020.
“There is no consideration of replacing [Grey],” Dooley told The Wall Street Journal earlier this week. “Paramount employees and the board are enthusiastic about discussing Paramount’s plans for the future.”
But Shari Redstone, daughter of controlling shareholder Sumner Redstone and a Viacom board member, may have a different opinion.
Viacom, through a spokesperson, declined to comment.
Gianopulos boasts close relationships with a cadre of filmmakers, most notably James Cameron, who made both Avatar and Titanic (with Paramount) for Fox and is at work on four Avatar sequels. And during the nearly quarter century he spent at Fox, he worked in all divisions. For the first 12 years of his chairmanship, Gianopulos served as chairman-CEO alongside Tom Rothman, who left in 2012. Snider came aboard as co-chairman in late 2014, but did not share the chairman-CEO title and instead reported to Gianopulos.
Gianopulos declined comment.