By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Rupe finally announced his succession plan last week (on Charlie Rose, bizarrely): Upon Murdoch’s death, his four children from his first marriage — Lachlan, James, Elisabeth and Prudence — will assume control of the family trust, which owns 30 percent of the $55 billion News Corp. His two younger daughters, by wife Wendi Deng, will not assume any control of the trust, nor will Deng have a voice in how News Corp. is run. Murdoch’s assets, however, will be divided equally among all six children. Wall Street, though not current News Corp. president and COO Peter Chernin, can rest easier now that the dispute over Murdoch’s financial assets has been settled. This was the same squabble that led to a rift with Lachlan, who left News Corp. last year after Dad stated that he wanted Deng’s kids to have a say in control of the trust.
But if it were my company, the Murdoch progeny who should run it is Elisabeth and not his two idiot sons. (Lachlan has cost money. The eldest child had to take the stand in an Australian courtroom to explain his role in investing $320 million of the corporation’s money in a collapsed telco.) But that’ll never happen given the usual corporate misogyny.
As I wrote back in 2003, it was Elisabeth, Rupert’s second oldest kid, who kept telling U.S. executives that Simon Fuller’s 2001 British monster hit Pop Idol would do just as well here. But Fox honchos Sandy Grushow and Gail Berman shrugged her off. Finally, it took Elisabeth’s nagging Daddy, and a direct order from Rupert himself, to get American Idol launched.
Considered the smartest of Murdoch’s children, Elisabeth is only third in the line of succession, behind Lachlan and James. But Murdoch told Rose it’ll be up to the kids themselves to decide who’ll be Numero Uno.
And Then There Were None
Not since Dawn Steel learned she was ousted as president of production while on maternity leave from Paramount has a top Hollywood executive been axed so brutally. Now, two decades later, Nina Jacobson heard about her firing as prez of Disney’s Buena Vista Motion Pictures Group at the hospital where her partner was giving birth to their third child. I’m told she was “devastated,” and understandably so. The timing took everyone by surprise, especially since she’d recently renegotiated her contract. That was what Hollywood fixated on, rather than the hundreds of Disney employees about to be laid off.
Just 15 months ago The New York Times was trumpeting “Hollywood’s New Old Girls’ Network” on the cover of the Sunday Arts and Leisure Section, pegged to Brad Grey’s naming Gail Berman to lead Paramount pics’ creative team: “He did something that has become almost routine in Hollywood: He put a woman in charge of the show. So striking is the change that some now see Hollywood as a gender-based model for the rest of corporate America.” But those advances are eroding before Hollywood women’s eyes. Today, only Gail Berman at Paramount and Amy Pascal at Sony are in positions of real power. (Elizabeth Gabler at Fox 2000 has many more layers of male bosses above her than this pair.) But the knives have been out for Berman since she took over (those many nasty articles about her — some deserved, some not). As for Pascal, she was supposed to be getting a promotion a year ago that would have put her on a par with her boss Michael Lynton — it hasn’t happened yet, though there’s an upcoming contract renegotiation.
Everyone else is gone. Laura Ziskin at Fox 2000, Lisa Henson and Lucy Fisher at Columbia, Sherry Lansing at Paramount, Stacey Snider at Universal, even Laurie MacDonald at DreamWorks Pictures (cohead with her husband) have all left their posts due to situations where they either jumped or were pushed.
Jacobson herself was under big pressure from corporate as part of the so-called “Iger strategy” to slash and burn the movie division. “The studio is undergoing a major reorganization, and there simply isn’t room for everyone in the new structure,” she said. (Mercifully, she didn’t hide behind that “I’m leaving to spend more time with my family” bullshit.) Her boss Dick Cook, the chairman of Walt Disney Studios, put it this way: “There are times when these things happen, and this is one of those times.” Which is just Hollywood’s way of saying, Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.
Hollywood was shocked and puzzled that Disney made this major personnel change on the heels of the huge success of Pirates 2and Narnia.Jacobson’s ouster comes just as she looks really smart for refusing to green-light Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water. Oren Aviv now becomes president of production for Walt Disney Pictures, his second promotion in 15 months. In April 2005, he was upped to president of marketing and chief creative officer at Walt Disney Studios. (I’m told that the hyperambitious Aviv, a previous president of marketing at Buena Vista Pictures, helped set the stage for his ascent by telling Disney a while ago that Paramount’s Brad Grey had offered him a big position.) Cook gave Aviv full credit — even story credit — for 2004’s National Treasure, as if anyone would (or should) be proud of that.
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