MPAA yanks job offer to Kerrey

Studios soured on drawn-out talks, radio-show disclosure

NEW YORK -- Former Senator Bob Kerrey will not be leading the Motion Picture Association of America after the major studio heads withdrew the job offer following prolonged negotiations and new doubts about whether he was the right person for the high-profile position, according to a Hollywood studio source.

Kerrey was offered the job more than two months ago; all indications as recently as last week were that it was a done deal -- except for figuring out when he would actually start. As CEO of the MPAA, Kerrey would have made about $1.2 million a year serving as chief lobbyist and global spokesman for the movie and TV industry.

However, in a continuing exchange with Kerrey, the studio heads leading the search had recently concluded things were not going to work out. They were unhappy he was taking so long to decide on whether and when to take the position.

They also were alarmed after Kerrey went on the Don Imus radio show about two weeks ago, making comments about his negotiations and plans for the job. This raised concerns that he was not showing enough discretion when he was about to take a position that required not just confidentiality but also political skills to forge a consensus among studios who often have diverse interests.

Kerrey on Thursday told THR that it was "a simple matter of a different view of what the job required."

"I like the studio heads a lot and wish them well," added Kerrey. "It is a great job that will work for someone. It just didn't work out for me."

The MPAA in a statement confirmed, "the MPAA Board and former Senator Bob Kerrey have agreed to end negotiations regarding the position of Chief Executive Officer of the MPAA. The search process for a new CEO will continue."

There was mounting concern in Hollywood that the former Nebraska senator really did not want to move from New York City to Washington, where they hoped he would rub elbows with the town's power brokers. He also didn't seem to relish the extensive domestic and international traveling necessary to do the job -- to combat global piracy, it takes intense lobbying to get other nations to cooperate and enforce their own laws.

While former MPAA chief Jack Valenti -- who died in 2007 after four decades atop the group -- was a force in D.C. and overseas, his successor, Dan Glickman, never achieved the same level of visibility. It was hoped that Kerrey, a war hero and outspoken advocate for causes he takes to heart, would have had that kind of impact.

As the talks dragged on, the studios also became annoyed that Kerrey wasn't sure when he would be available to leave his position as president of the New School, where his contract runs until spring 2011. Sources at the New York university had said they wanted to find a replacement before releasing him.

The studios at this time do not have another contender in the wings. However, they do have Bob Pisano in place as interim CEO, doing what observers have called an outstanding job.

Pisano was expected to stay on in any case and remains under contract to the MPAA. A former Hollywood studio executive and strong administrator, Pisano is not seen as having the D.C. connections, which is why he wasn't offered the job on a permanent basis.

Now the MPAA must resume their search for the job, which -- in addition to the expected $1.2 million annual salary -- includes extensive travel and other perks. Besides Pisano, the MPAA may take another look at previous contenders, as well as cast its net again. There had been a report that former Congressman Harold Ford was in the running, but others said he eventually withdrew from consideration.

The search committee has been led by Warner Bros.' Barry Meyer, Sony's Michael Lynton, Fox's Jim Gianopulos and Disney's Bob Iger (usually represented by studio general counsel Alan Braverman). Staff at the MPAA has been kept in the dark about the search for the most part.

Pisano most recently took the lead in the battle against the creation of a movie futures market based on box office results. While two ventures got initial approval, the idea was killed by an amendment to the recently enacted Wall Street financial reform legislation. Pisano testified before Congress, lobbying for support and talking to the press to build the case for the MPAA and a coalition that included Hollywood talent guilds, major movie exhibitors and the independent film distributors group.

Whoever take the job, the major task ahead will be to deal with global piracy of intellectual property. Even though the U.S. has many laws, it takes intense lobbying to get other countries to cooperate and enforce their own laws against piracy, especially in many Asian countries where the practice of illegal copying remains rampant.
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