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Fox Co-Chairman Tom Rothman forced out; TV unit realigned

September 14, 2012|By Ben Fritz and Dawn C. Chmielewski
  • Fox Filmed Entertainment Co-Chairman Tom Rothman, who has led the News Corp.-owned studio together with Jim Gianopulos since 2000, speaks at an event in 2008.
Fox Filmed Entertainment Co-Chairman Tom Rothman, who has led the News… (Michael Buckner / Getty…)

Tom Rothman learned this week in a meeting with News Corp. Chief Operating Officer Chase Carey that he was being forced out of his job as co-chairman of Fox Filmed Entertainment, according to a person with knowledge of the situation who was not authorized to speak publicly.

Rothman's contract was set to expire in March 2014. 

News Corp. announced Friday that Rothman would be leaving Jan. 1, 2013 and that Jim Gianopulos, his fellow co-chairman for the last 12 years, would take over the helm of the movie studio. The move comes as Fox is restructuring the studio operation, putting television under News Corp.'s Carey. For the last three years, television production had reported to Rothman and Gianopulos.

Rothman has been described by co-workers and others in the movie community as a mercurial, hard-charging boss with a quick temper who was deeply involved in the details of filmmaking and marketing. Many said his management style rubbed many the wrong way and largely contributed to his job's ultimate demise.

The studio chief is credited with keeping a close eye on the bottom line, reining in production and marketing costs on most movies. Although it didn't make him particularly popular with actors and filmmakers, consistent quarterly profitability pleased his bosses.

Rothman is also widely credited with Fox's continued dedication to its successful specialty film unit Fox Searchlight, which he founded when he joined the studio in 1994.

During his 18 years at the studio, Fox released the two biggest films in box-office history: "Avatar," which grossed $2.8 billion, and "Titanic," which took in $2.2 billion, both directed by James Cameron.

Fox Searchlight also released such Oscar-wining movies as "Little Miss Sunshine" and best picture winner "Slumdog Millionaire."

But many agents and producers disliked working at Fox, in part because of Rothman's focus on grinding down budgets. Rothman and Gianopulos were on the cutting edge of the now-common practice in Hollywood of paying actors and directors less up front in exchange for a cut of profits -- should any profits materialize.

Insiders pointed to several factors that may have contributed to Rothman's exit. He opposed a significant deal that Fox signed last month to distribute movies for DreamWorks Animation, a position that made it difficult for him to work with the "Shrek" studio's Chief Executive Jeffrey Katzenberg. Gianopulos championed that agreement, which was ultimately approved by News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch.

In addition, during his tenure Fox passed on the comedy "Ted," which became a huge money maker this summer for Universal Pictures. The decision not only cost Fox millions in profits but also upset the film's director, Seth MacFarlane, who as the creator of "Family Guy" is one of the most valuable talents working at the Fox network and television studio.

The transition to Gianopulos' sole leadership will bring changes to the studio. He was the more strategic thinker focused on the international business, while Rothman was more closely involved with the creative development and production of films.

As part of the studio realignment announced Friday, Twentieth Century Fox Television Co-Chairmen Dana Walden and Gary Newman will report directly to Carey.

Gianopulos will oversee only the film operation, which will be called Twentieth Century Fox Film.

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