Paramount Gets Touch Of Grey

With a deal finally in place, Brad Grey, one of the entertainment industry's leading talent managers, is set to make the transition to studio head by taking over the top executive post at Paramount Pi

(The Hollywood Reporter) -- With a deal finally in place, Brad Grey, one of the entertainment industry's leading talent managers, is set to make the transition to studio head by taking over the top executive post at Paramount Pictures by March 1.

He will succeed Sherry Lansing, who is stepping down after 12 years at the Hollywood-based studio.

Grey's appointment was announced Jan. 6 by Tom Freston, co-president and co-COO of Viacom, Paramount's parent company.

In his new position, Grey will take on the title of chairman/CEO of Paramount Motion Picture Group. Reporting to Freston, he will oversee all of Paramount's motion picture operations, including business operations worldwide.

Although he'll be taking over Lansing's responsibilities as head of the studio, he also will be handling many of the financial duties that formerly belonged to Jonathan Dolgen, who resigned as chairman of Viacom Entertainment Group in June, shortly after Freston was appointed to the Viacom co-presidency, which he shares with Leslie Moonves, who oversees Viacom's television interests.

In deciding to move into a studio post -- a transition that will require that he divest his lucrative ownership interest in Brillstein-Grey and its related companies -- Grey said, "After talking to Tom, I felt it is a time in my life when I want to take on a new and big and interesting challenge. He felt comfortable with me, and I felt comfortable because of Tom and Les Moonves and the company they have built at Viacom. I think it's an honor to be asked to do this, and I'm just completely enamored of Paramount Pictures and what it stands for."

Although experienced in TV production -- he's executive producer of HBO's "The Sopranos" -- Grey only recently has become more involved in film production through Plan B, the production company housed at Warner Bros. Pictures. But that appealed to Freston, who is betting Grey will shake up Paramount's film business because, "He's an insider in this business but still has an outsider's perspective."

Although Grey has begun extricating himself from his Brillstein-Grey holdings, that process isn't complete yet. According to Freston, there was never any discussion that Viacom would assume any of Grey's stake in the company. Rather, Grey said, he will turn over the company to its current execs, such as Marc Gurvitz, Cynthia Pett-Dante and Sandy Wernick. Although the details haven't been worked out, "they will now run and own the most successful management/production company in town," Grey said.

Grey also must make decisions regarding Plan B, in which he is partnered with Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston. He said that he had sought the advice of Warner Bros. president Alan Horn in deciding to make the move but has not decided the fate of Plan B.

Though it has put together an impressive development slate, Plan B's own future has been complicated by the announcement Jan. 7 that Pitt and Aniston, who married more than four years ago, are separating -- a development that might well affect their future business dealings together.

Lansing is expected to remain in place for the next two months to facilitate the transition.

Grey's appointment didn't appear to raise a signal on Wall Street's radar Jan. 6.

The usual flood of analyst reports failed to materialize, but when asked about the news, Wall Street insiders said Paramount's move might be risky but also could bear fruit.

Several people suggested that Grey's talent-spotting expertise could fit in nicely with Freston's plans to get Paramount to produce more films for younger demographics with young, up-and-coming talent, while also going for tentpole movies with bigger names again.

Viacom shares closed up 1% at $38.27 on Jan. 6.

Georg Szalai in New York and Cynthia Littleton in Los Angeles contributed to this report.