MGM Shake-Up: Gary Barber Out as Chairman-CEO

Gary Barber - Publicity - H 2017
Alex J. Berliner/ABImages/Courtesy of MGM

The exec — who recently renewed his contract through 2022 — is abruptly leaving after eight years at the helm.

In yet another major leadership shake-up at a Hollywood studio, Gary Barber is out as CEO and chairman of MGM. He arrived at the company in 2010 after the once-storied studio emerged from bankruptcy.

“Over the past eight years, MGM has successfully built a world class company and talented team,” Kevin Ulrich, chairman of the MGM board of directors, said Monday night in a  statement.

There was no explanation for Barber's abrupt ouster after guiding MGM's comeback. In October, Barber reupped with the studio and extended his contract for five years, through December 2022, making his exit all the more surprising across Hollywood. Sources say Barber was blindsided by the board's decision to part ways and that Ulrich spearheaded the move to oust him. Ulrich runs the hedge fund Anchorage Capital, MGM’s largest shareholder. 

Huge wins for Barber have included the past two Bond films, Skyfall (2012) and Spectre (2015). But his departure follows a mixed run at the box office more recently, including this past weekend's tepid domestic debut of Tomb Raider.

MGM and Eon Productions are planning a Nov. 8, 2019, domestic release for Bond 25, set to star Daniel Craig in his final turn as the big screen's most famous spy. Eon and MGM have yet to announce a foreign distributor for the movie, but sources say Warner Bros. is at the top of the list. It is unclear how Barber’s exit impacts those talks or getting the film into production. 

Barber was also instrumental in MGM's push into television. In September 2014, the company acquired a 55 percent stake in One Three Media and LightWorkers Media, the companies co-owned by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey. The deal gave MGM an interest in hit shows like Survivor and The Voice. In December 2015, Burnett was named president of MGM Television and Digital Group. 

MGM Television also had a huge commercial and critical success with The Handmaid's Tale. The company had purchased the movie rights to Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel in the 1990s and finally adapted the book as a prestige drama series for Hulu, with the show going on to win eight Emmys last year. A highly anticipated second season premieres in April. 

The board will brief investors during an earnings call March 28.

“With this transformation complete, MGM is uniquely positioned for exceptional future growth in the evolving entertainment landscape," said Ulrich. "Now is the right time to enable the next generation of leadership who can help drive the creativity, collaboration and partnership needed to continue the company’s positive trajectory. Looking forward, we are committed to empowering our team to take charge, innovate and execute on the promising opportunities in front of MGM."

Since emerging from Chapter 11 bankruptcy, MGM has relied on other studios to market distribute its films. More recently, however, it formed a joint venture with Megan Ellison's Annapurna Pictures that put it back into the domestic distribution business.

Barber joined MGM from Spyglass Entertainment, which he ran with Roger Birnbaum.

The MGM board has temporarily formed an office of the CEO to oversee the company’s day-to-day operations during the transition. The office will report directly to the board and include a group of divisional heads and senior executives.

Added Ulrich: “On behalf of MGM’s Board of Directors, I would like to thank Gary for his contributions and for leading MGM with the highest integrity over the last eight years. Gary has played a key role in the development and execution of our strategic plan, which laid an important foundation for MGM.”

The other board members are Ann Mather, formerly of Pixar, Paramount Pictures and Disney; Fredric Reynolds, formerly of CBS and Viacom; Nancy Tellem, formerly of Microsoft/Xbox Studios and CBS; David Krane, CEO of Google Ventures; and James Dondero, CEO of Highland Capital Management.