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This story first appeared in the Nov. 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
For five years, as most Hollywood producers have seen studio deals slashed or eliminated, Peter Chernin has enjoyed a pair of the most lucrative pacts in town. But when his separate deals at 20th Century Fox film and 20th Century Fox TV expire in June, the studio’s former second-in-command executive and Rupert Murdoch confidant could find his stratospheric arrangements a bit closer to Earth.
Sources say Chernin Entertainment is close to re-signing with Fox for film, where he has produced such recent hits as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes ($707.5 million worldwide) and The Heat ($230 million worldwide) as well as St. Vincent, which has garnered rave reviews and awards buzz for Bill Murray. Chernin’s riskiest bet for Fox, the $150 million Moses epic Exodus: Gods and Kings, hits theaters Dec. 12 from director Ridley Scott and star Christian Bale. Sources say Chernin’s re-up, being negotiated by attorney Sam Fischer, likely will end up slightly less lucrative than his first Fox pact — sealed as he exited as News Corp. president and COO in 2009 — but top-of-the-market for a producer who doesn’t bring money to the table.
On the TV front, however, megasuccess has eluded Chernin, 63, whose disappointments include the pricey dinosaur drama Terra Nova, the short-lived comedy Ben and Kate and the ancient Egypt drama Hieroglyph, which was scrapped before it got a chance to launch. (Chernin will earn hefty fees from the Fox comedy New Girl, which has inked a series of syndication deals.) Multiple sources suggest Chernin is quietly shopping his TV deal elsewhere and likely will leave Fox. Options range from other studio suitors, including Universal — Chernin is said to maintain a friendship with NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke and studio chairman Jeff Shell — to the independent route a la Steven Spielberg‘s Amblin TV.
According to a knowledgeable source, “Fox was very unhappy with some of the [film and TV deals’] terms,” particularly Chernin’s hefty backend and the number of “put” pictures in his contract. Chernin was guaranteed that at least two of his films a year would go into production. It is unclear whether Fox will extend that guarantee.
When a flattering profile of the typically press-shy Chernin ran in The New York Times on Oct. 29, industry watchers and Fox insiders saw it as a sign he was angling for an upper hand in the Fox negotiation. That story coincided with a recent lunch between Chernin and Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara. But a source close to Chernin denies that he has had conversations with any film studio other than Fox, and a Warners insider says that studio is not courting Chernin for film or TV.
For now, Fox is focused on the film deal. Still, there is little chance Chernin will continue to enjoy one of the industry’s richest TV deals.
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