Paramount Pictures, shaking up its management ranks, ousted its two top production executives Friday, signaling unhappiness with the pace of development and performance of movies developed under their watch, including the current Eddie Murphy bomb "Imagine That."
The abruptness of the firings of Paramount Film Group President John Lesher and production President Brad Weston late Friday apparently took both executives by surprise, although speculation about their status at the studio had been mounting in Hollywood for months. Both Lesher, who had just signed a new four-year deal in January of last year, and Weston, who joined the studio in 2005, have been offered production deals at the studio.
Stepping into the chief production role is Adam Goodman, who has been one of the three senior creative executives at Paramount alongside Lesher and Weston. Goodman, a former DreamWorks executive, oversaw the recent hits "Hotel for Dogs" and "I Love You, Man."
Although Paramount has been ranked No. 2 in U.S. box office market share for nearly two years, most of its hits were not developed internally.
Instead, Paramount's biggest films, including DreamWorks' "Transformers" and Marvel Studio's "Iron Man," came from other suppliers.
The paucity of internally generated projects under Lesher and Weston, who were appointed 18 months ago to rev up production after the studio lost its chief provider of films, DreamWorks, contributed to the dissatisfaction of their bosses, studio Chairman Brad Grey and Vice Chairman Rob Moore, according to a person familiar with the situation.
Friday's executive upheaval continues the management instability that has plagued the Viacom Inc.-owned studio under Grey and Moore's watch over the last several years. There's been a parade of top executive departures since Grey took the reins in 2005, including his first hire, Gail Berman, who was president of the studio.
Paramount confirmed Friday that it had "revamped" its production executive team, putting Goodman in charge and reporting to Grey.
In an interview, Moore said, "Both at DreamWorks and Paramount, Adam Goodman has had experience managing a production slate including family and tent-pole movies," among which is next week's sequel, "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen."
"We felt he was the best single person to manage this going forward," Moore said.
Over the last 12 months, Paramount had developed only five movies. One of them, director J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek," was a blockbuster, and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" turned a small profit. But the three others, "The Love Guru," "Dance Flick" and "Imagine That," all flopped.
Lesher, who before joining Paramount had spent two decades as a top agent, made a big splash when he first came to Paramount and was put in charge of the studio's struggling specialty film label. The unit's first releases were the critically acclaimed "Babel," starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, and the highly profitable "An Inconvenient Truth," Al Gore's documentary about global warming.
Lesher also oversaw the Oscar-winning hit "No Country for Old Men," but after the division lost money on such films as "A Mighty Heart," "Margot at the Wedding" and "The Dutchess," its operations were folded into Paramount.
Goodman, formerly production president at DreamWorks, came to Grey's attention after Viacom acquired DreamWorks in early 2006. After DreamWorks founder Steven Spielberg left Paramount in November 2008, Grey brought Goodman over to the bigger studio.