Bob Kerrey as MPAA head: 'Done deal'

A $1.2 million salary, but no start date is set

The question about former U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey taking the former Jack Valenti role at the MPAA as Hollywood's chief lobbyist is not if but when.

Two months after he was offered the job, and a week after confirming on a radio show that he was in final negotiations, THR has learned that the deal is all but done. His compensation of about $1.2 million a year and job description appear set. The unanswered question is when he will come on board as the movie and TV industry's global face and spokesman.

"I do think it's a done deal," a Washington insider with strong ties to Hollywood said Thursday. "It's just a question of picking a starting date."

That might be why the often impatient major studio chiefs on the search committee -- a group that includes Warner Bros.' Barry Meyer, Sony's Michael Lynton, Fox's Jim Gianopulos and Disney's Bob Iger -- have shown such unusual patience. There even is a sentiment that Kerrey's insistence that he stay on as president of New York's the New School until other leadership is in place shows he is a person of character.

"He is not a guy who is going to walk away from a commitment, and he has a commitment to wind down at the New School," an industry insider said. "He's going to do that, and those at the MPAA respect that."

They also have the luxury of having interim CEO Bob Pisano under contract for some time, even after Kerrey comes on board. Pisano most recently took a high-profile role in leading the coalition that killed the notion of creating a commodities market based on movie boxoffice.

On Thursday, Pisano declined to discuss Kerrey or his own future role other than to say he would be happy to serve whomever takes the top job. He did say that, based on his experiences, the next MPAA leader will need to build similar coalitions of studios, labor, exhibition and independents to cope with the issues ahead, in particular the global fight against pirating intellectual property.

"The issues today are more complex than ever," Pisano said, "and we need to join together with all the elements of the industry, especially the people who create the product."

The major hang-up is when Kerrey will leave his position at the New School, where he has been president since 2001. Although his contract isn't actually up until spring, it appears he has indicated that he can leave well before that. Kerrey said last week on the Don Imus radio show that he expects to leave the school in the fall.

Kerrey has strong support from the university's board and has grown the enrollment and endowment significantly on his watch, but some faculty members and students will be happy to see him go. After Kerrey in March announced his plan to step down, the university's student senate sent out a mass e-mail saying there was "controversy about President Kerrey's statements that he was not leaving because of the immense protests against him by the faculty and students."

During Kerrey's tenure, there have been multiple protests over his leadership style, a three-day campus demonstration that closed the school and tension as five provosts have come and gone. Former Student Senate vp and treasurer Dan Schulman praised Kerrey for his ability to raise money for the school but told THR that "his disregard for the consultation and input from all constituencies -- specifically the most important shareholders, faculty and students -- and apparent lack of care for this input led to unilateral decision-making within a top-down corporate structure acting more as a firm than an academic institution."

Schulman said he has come to feel Kerrey leaving is "definitely a step in the right direction" for the university.

What might be a problem in an academic environment might be a plus for Hollywood, the industry insider suggested. "You want someone like that to reflect your views, the concerns of a trade association," the person said. "If he has no difficulty expressing his views and opinions, you want him on your side."

A former studio boss said there are plenty of people at the MPAA, including Pisano, with industry knowledge, so that isn't what the studios want. "You're looking for someone who can represent the film industry in Congress, and that is never an easy job," the exec said. "The fact that they are waiting (for Kerrey) probably means they don't have a ton of candidates they felt could do the job the same way."

A Washington veteran with connections to Hollywood praised Kerrey as someone who can handle what has become an ever tougher, more complex job of reconciling the needs of MPAA members, bringing together an industry and dealing with everyone from politicians to the public.

"The MPAA is largely an anti-piracy organization now," he said. "One great asset Bob will bring to this job is a fresh set of eyes to then become a fresh voice. For a lot of people, he can step up and say: 'Holy cow! I don't think anybody realizes what's going on here. This is a real problem. It's cutting into real sales, real productions, and we have got to take it seriously.' He's a powerful and effective speaker and presence who can make a real impact on the public discourse on why people should care about piracy."

Kerrey, a decorated Vietnam veteran, is remembered in Hollywood from his days as a Democratic senator from Nebraska.

"I think people in general were very supportive of him throughout his time in the Senate, liked him and thought he was a straight shooter and very principled and committed to the issues," said Lara Bergthold, political adviser to producer Norman Lear.

"He is a person of great stature in Washington and great respect on both sides of the aisle," said the industry insider. "He lived the life as a senator, as governor, and maintained a reputation for integrity and decency. He has run his own business and run a large organization with multiple constituents."

Kerrey, said another source, "asked all the right questions" during the recruitment process run by a professional search firm, "and has a clear understanding of what needs to happen."

The insider added: "Kerry will bring another dimension to what is already a well-run team, so it's not like the lights are going to go out if we don't get him here next week. On the other hand, no organization wants to wait forever and remain in limbo."

Alex Ben Block reported from Los Angeles; Georg Szalai reported from New York.