A shakeout among top executives at NBCUniversal that has been playing out in the past week is filled with corporate intrigue, according to a report by Kim Masters in The Hollywood Reporter.
After changes in the cable division surfaced earlier this week, a bigger shoe fell Tuesday when veteran Ron Meyer had the rug pulled out from under his long tenure as head of the company’s film studio.
Masters reports: "For many months, industry executives had been shaking their heads over how NBCUniversal had marginalized Ron Meyer, the long-reigning chief of Universal Studios. Some believed Meyer’s 18-year run finally might be over. But in August, NBCU CEO Steve Burke secretly invited Meyer to his house in Montana for fishing, horseback riding and a rapprochement. Meyer, 68, emerged with the title of vice chairman of NBCU and a contract extended to 2017."
Burke reportedly informed Meyer that Jeff Shell, the chairman of NBCU International and a Comcast insider, would be named chairman of the Universal Filmed Entertainment Group.
Meanwhile, infighting between Donna Langley and Adam Fogelson reportedly reached a boiling point.
"In the subsequent shuffle, studio chairman Adam Fogelson, who had been enjoying a run of success, abruptly was dismissed Sept. 9 and replaced by co-chairman Donna Langley, who had been seen as standing on shakier ground than Fogelson," Masters writes. "Industry observers say these outcomes result from a combination of pragmatism on the part of the suits at NBCU and the most old-fashioned type of corporate intrigue within Universal. They say Burke recognized that Shell — a TV executive who lacks film experience — needs Meyer to serve as his mentor in Hollywood."
Masters adds: "The resulting shakeup is the first big move at the studio since Comcast acquired NBCU in 2011. Sources say Burke had come to recognize that finding a strong candidate to run Universal was no simple feat. At the same time, Burke and Comcast CEO Brian Roberts were seen as eager to put one of their own in charge — a well-regarded, no-nonsense executive with a Harvard MBA. (A source says Shell has made it clear that he feels no burning desire to mingle with celebrities.)"
The piece notes that other TV executives who have tried to move into top film positions — Gail Berman at Paramount and Rich Ross at Disney, to name two — have had short tenures.
The report quotes a Universal veteran saying: "In order for Jeff Shell to succeed, you have to make sure there isn’t someone trying to kill him and there’s someone who can help him."
Commenting on the Disney situation, the source adds: "If Ross would have had [former studio boss Dick Cook] there, things would have been different."
According to Masters, Fogelson and Langley were each trying to get the other fired. "Fogelson was preparing a presentation to Burke on why Langley should go, while Langley had a contract negotiation coming up and expressed reluctance to continue with Fogelson in the job," Masters writes. "Universal declined comment, but insiders say Meyer favored Langley — who had more production experience — and had wanted to give her the chairman’s job following the dismissal of studio heads Marc Shmuger and David Linde in 2009. But Fogelson, who had been a strong head of marketing, had the leverage to demand a promotion."
Said one source: "Adam made clear that if he wasn’t in line, he would leave."
We encourage you to click on the link to THR at the top of this story to read the rest of Masters’ insightful report.