UPDATE: The studio has made this official. (See release below.)
BREAKING… SHOCKER! In a shocking development, Adam Fogelson will exit his post as Universal Pictures chairman, with Jeff Shell taking over Universal Studios. Ron Meyer is becoming the sole vice chairman of NBC Universal through 2017, and Donna Langley has been promoted chairman of Universal Pictures. Shell, who comes from the studio’s parent company Comcast, had been running Universal International. With that strong international background under his belt, he is coming to Hollywood.
To say this is a stunner is an understatement. I saw the Universal gang last night in Toronto for a drink before the premiere of the Ron Howard-directed Rush, and if he knew there was something amiss at the time, Fogelson is a world-class actor. They all headed back this morning and the change was made while they were flying. That’s when the turbulence hit.
Fogelson had the studio on a roll but his emphasis was on domestic distribution and marketing first. Given Shell’s expertise, the mandate going forward will be to emphasize a global game plan. The prospect that a Shell game was in the works, in this exact scenario, was rumored months ago, when Shell bought a house in Hollywood. But they were denied by the studio at the time. After weathering rumors that Comcast tried to get DreamWorks partner Stacey Snider to return to Universal, or that longtime chief Meyer would retire, all the rumors died down. Fogelson, a level-headed exec who came out of marketing to take the top job and replace Marc Shmuger, seemed to be on stronger footing with Langley. After weathering a rough period including losers like Battleship, the motion picture group turned the corner last year with hits like Ted, and was doing better than a lot of other studios lately, and they are No. 2 in market share behind Warner Bros. Both of them were re-upped in late 2011 through 2014.
The momentum certainly helps Langley, who has taste and strong relationships with talent, something that will help Shell as he gets going. The studio has the stability of the hit-making family film division, Chris Meledandri’s Illumination Entertainment, and a coterie of long term producing deals with the likes of Working Title partners Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner, Imagine Entertainment’s Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, and Scott Stuber. They also just made an overall deal with Legendary Pictures, Thomas Tull’s financing and producing company which left Warner Bros.
The good run was fueled by such hits as Fast & Furious 6, Despicable Me 2, Identity Thief, Mama, Oblivion, 2 Guns and The Purge. They also have an adaptation of Fifty Shades Of Grey in the works that should be a major piece of business, a deal championed by Langley. That book has sold over 70 million copies worldwide, and it was coveted by studios all over town before Langley won the deal and placed the picture with Focus Features. On the negative side of the ledger, R.I.P.D. was a flop, and there have been questions about the prospects and the high budget of the upcoming Keanu Reeves pic 47 Ronin. But every studio has flops, they are part of the game. And Fogelson, who developed an acumen for film marketing from his father Andrew Fogelson, is a capable executive and well liked internally. But there is only one way to go when you reach the top of the mountain. These jobs don’t last, and Fogelson and Langley were already about the third longest running motion picture team in town after being appointed in 2009 to replace Marc Shmuger and David Linde. This seems to be a case of where Comcast’s Steve Burke wanted his own guy, and got him. Comcast has overhauled most of the divisions from sports to TV since acquiring the company, and Case waited a good long time before making a feature move with an exec who has a track record for building businesses. The next round of speculation will be about whether that is as high as Shell goes.
Fogelson, who was blindsided by the move, did not return phone calls. Here is the official release:
Universal City – Sept. 9, 2013 – NBCUniversal announced today that Jeff Shell has been named Chairman, Universal Filmed Entertainment Group. In his new role, Shell will oversee worldwide operations for the motion picture group including its global theatrical and home entertainment businesses.
The Company also announced that Ron Meyer has been elevated to Vice Chairman, NBCUniversal and has signed a contract extension through 2017. In his new role as NBCUniversal’s only Vice Chairman, Meyer will expand his scope to offer strategic guidance on all aspects of the company, while continuing to focus on the motion picture and theme park groups as well as the physical operations of the Studio in Los Angeles.
In addition, Donna Langley was promoted to Chairman, Universal Pictures. Langley will continue to oversee all feature film production and play a critical role in all aspects of Universal Pictures. Her responsibilities also include the studio’s specialty division Focus Features.
Shell and Meyer will continue to report to Steve Burke, Chief Executive Officer, NBCUniversal. Langley will report to Shell.
“First and foremost Jeff is a terrific media executive,” said Burke, “I have worked with him for over a decade and have been consistently impressed by his strategic vision, operational focus and energy. In addition, having led NBCUniversal’s international operations for the last two and a half years, Jeff is perfectly positioned to lead our film group at a time when global expansion is more important than ever.
“In Ron, Jeff and Donna, we have three of the most talented business and creative executives in the industry. I have no doubt their collective strengths will help us continue to maintain our momentum and drive value at the studio.”
“There is no one in Hollywood like Ron,” added Burke. “He is among the most accomplished, experienced and well respected executives in the entertainment business. In the three years we have worked together, I have been impressed not only by his knowledge of the industry but also his tremendous loyalty to Universal. He has been a valuable partner to me and a great leader within our company and I look forward to his expanded role and particularly to his close collaboration with Jeff and Donna.”
“Donna continues to successfully position Universal Pictures for the future and deliver the most compelling films to our audience worldwide,” said Burke. “Her taste and instincts are unmatched in the business and she has been a driving force behind Universal’s current successes. We look forward to her continued leadership.”
Universal is on track for a record year at the worldwide box office in 2013. The company has enjoyed a tremendous run at the box office that began in June of 2012 with Snow White and the Huntsman and continued with hits like Ted (the highest grossing original R-rated comedy in history) and the critically acclaimed Oscar-winning film and second highest-grossing musical of all time Les Misérables. Since the opening of Snow White and the Huntsman, the studio has opened 12 films to No. 1 and currently has the second and third highest-grossing films worldwide with Despicable Me 2 and Fast & Furious 6, respectively.
Adam Fogelson, who has been Chairman, Universal Pictures since October 2009, has decided to leave the company. Burke and Meyer said, “We’d like to thank Adam for his very significant contribution to our film division over the past 15 years. He has been an important part of our company for a long time and has helped deliver consistent results during a particularly challenging time for the film business.”
For the past two years, Shell oversaw the operations of all NBCUniversal International businesses, including International TV Distribution, Global Television Networks and International Television Production. He also managed, in partnership with their domestic leaders, CNBC International, International Theatrical Marketing and Distribution, International Home Entertainment, and International Theme Park Operations. In addition to managing the day-to-day operations for the Company outside the U.S., Shell was responsible for international growth opportunities for both NBCUniversal and Comcast Corporation overall. Prior to joining NBCUniversal, he served as President of Comcast Programming Group where he managed Comcast’s interests and investments in its national and regional television networks.
Prior to joining Comcast, Shell was CEO of Gemstar TV Guide International. Previously he held a number of positions within News Corporation including President of the FOX Cable Networks Group. Shell also worked in the Strategic Planning Group at the Walt Disney Company and at Salomon Brothers Inc. He was recently appointed by President Obama and confirmed by the Senate to be Chair of the Broadcast Board of Governors, and began serving in August.
Meyer – the longest running studio head in the film industry – has been at the helm of Universal Studios since 1995 as the President and COO of Universal Studios overseeing and orchestrating some of the most successful years in the history of the Studio and the theme parks. Prior to joining Universal Studios, Meyer was President of Creative Artists Agency, Inc., which he founded in 1975 with four fellow agents from the William Morris Agency.
Langley began her career at New Line Cinema, where she served as Senior Vice President of production before joining Universal in 2001 where she rose through the production ranks to President of production before her most recent position as co-Chairman, Universal Pictures. She has played a key role in attracting some of the industry’s top filmmakers including Judd Apatow, Ron Howard, Ridley Scott, Clint Eastwood and Michael Mann. While at Universal she has overseen some of Universal’s biggest commercial and critically-acclaimed successes including Les Miserables, Mamma Mia!, Wanted, Knocked Up, Ted, Pitch Perfect, United 93, The Break Up and homegrown hit franchises including the Bourne franchise, Fast & Furious and Meet the Fockers.