MPAA starts search for new chief

Early front-runner is former Democratic Rep. Harold Ford Jr.

Former Democratic Rep. Harold Ford Jr. has emerged as the early front-runner among studios to succeed Hollywood's top lobbyist Dan Glickman, who has made it official that he will depart as MPAA chairman and CEO when his contract expires in 10 months.

With Glickman's contract expiring Sept. 1, he informed the MPAA board of his decision Monday after an interview with Politico published late Sunday.

Although the formal search process has not began, Ford has started lobbying studios. But there are other names being bandied about, and additional contenders are sure to emerge during a complex recruitment process that requires a candidate to win the approval of all six major studios.

As chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council, Ford, 39, has more than youth and a record of activity in the black community on his side. He also is well-liked and has a reputation for being a good speaker. His political career has been on the rise despite a narrow loss to Bob Corker in Tennessee's Senate election in 2006.

The last change atop the MPAA also included numerous swerves.

When Jack Valenti resigned in 2004, the MPAA board settled on Billy Tauzin, then chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, to take over. However, the Louisiana congressman bowed out at the last second over higher salary and benefits demands.

The studios then hired an executive-search firm that came up with a shortlist of three candidates, a process Hollywood and Beltway folks expect to be repeated this time around. After interviews with all three, the studio heads picked Glickman -- a former Kansas congressman and Secretary of Agriculture who reportedly aced the chats -- over former Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clarke, whom some had bet on to get the gig.

The studios must first discuss the need for and role of the MPAA before settling on its next leader. After recent MPAA funding cuts, they might be willing to step up their own lobbying efforts and reduce the MPAA's role.

The studios also might be thinking of a less-exalted role for the head of the MPAA, one that would come with a smaller salary. Glickman makes $1.2 million a year.

Also surfacing as potential candidates for the MPAA leadership: California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Universal Music lobbyist Matt Gerson, Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., MPAA COO Bob Pisano, the group's federal affairs guru Michael O'Leary and Disney lobbyist Richard Bates.

On Monday, Washington insiders suggested that Martin Franks, executive vp planning, policy and government affairs at CBS Corp., and DeDe Lea, Viacom's executive vp government relations, would make good candidates.

A key skill for top lobbyists, beyond being liked by the studios, is to know how to run a political organization, among the reasons longtime lobbyist Gerson, a former vp congressional relations at the MPAA, might have an edge. On the other hand, he wasn't picked last time around.

Within the MPAA, Pisano has the political and studio experience thanks to previous top roles at MGM and SAG. But studios might be leaning toward a younger candidate.

O'Leary is the MPAA's "feet on the ground" and has earned promotions within the group, but he also has rubbed some the wrong way. He works on the association's domestic government-policy priorities and oversees federal and state legislative and regulatory strategies.

Schwarzenegger is the biggest name on the list of early suspects. Name recognition, appeal to a broad range of stakeholders and likely interest in remaining a player after departing as governor are in his favor.

The glam factor is on the Governator's side, but it's not clear whether he would be willing to report to studio bosses rather than do his own thing. Plus, one observer said, "Do he and Maria (Shriver) really want to move to DC?"With Glickman announcing his departure so early, MPAA officials shrugged off concerns that he might be a lame duck. An MPAA spokeswoman said Glickman will remain focused on key issues including broadband and piracy.

"My primary goal at this time at the MPAA is to defend the creative arts and keep a truly American industry strong," Glickman said. "We have a number of top priorities for the remainder of 2009 and 2010 both here and abroad, and I am dedicated to making sure that we do our best on behalf of millions of workers in the film and television industries."

Regarding his plans, Glickman said he was looking for opportunities in the fields of "global agricultural and hunger issues."