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How to Make Sense of the Universal Shake-Up

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood September 12, 2013 at 10:36PM

It doesn't matter if you turn the studio around and score the number one summer market share. The firing of Universal co-chairman Adam Fogelson reminds us that what matters is whether or not your bosses like you. I remember seeing Adam Fogelson speak at CinemaCon a few years ago, when he was head of marketing at Universal. I thought he came off cocky. The man does not lack for confidence.
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Adam Fogelson
Adam Fogelson

It doesn't matter if you turn the studio around and score the number one summer market share. The firing of Universal co-chairman Adam Fogelson reminds that what matters is whether or not your bosses like you. I remember seeing Fogelson speak at CinemaCon a few years ago, when he was head of marketing at Universal. I thought he came off cocky. The man does not lack for confidence. But as I got to know him I admired his moxie. He was willing to challenge the status quo--especially the highly charged issue of how the studios and theaters are going to coexist going forward. 

And like many in Hollywood, I was impressed that he and his co-chairman Donna Langley had managed to pull the studio out of a tailspin. Unlike the other studios, Universal did not put all its eggs in the franchise basket, instead chasing a balance of tentpoles and a diverse array of product spread throughout the year. Fogelson can be compared to an exec like Summit's Rob Friedman, a studio marketing and distribution maven.

Hollywood has reacted with surprise to Fogelson's axing by Comcast and NBC Universal CEO Steve Burke--who wanted to bring in one of his own trusted lieutenants, Jeff Shell, 48, to run the studio. But the person who is staying on to supervise the latest studio executive with a steep learning curve (see: Gail Berman, Rich Ross) is the wiliest of Hollywood moguls, someone who should never be underestimated: Ron Meyer, the longest-running studio chief in Hollywood history with 18 years under his belt.

According to The Wrap, Fogelson's crucial error may have been not serving his old boss Meyer well enough--perhaps under the misapprehension that he would not survive. And the other winner in this game of survivor is Fogelson's co-chairman, Donna Langley, a popular and respected production executive who can be counted on to continue to offer up a menu of strong product.

Here's the thing.  It's often a risk to go to the outsider who doesn't understand the arcane nuances of how to get things done inside the film business. Fogelson was smart and had a handle on how things work in Hollywood.You don't have to want to cuddle with the guy to get that he was sharp. But being the smartest guy in the room is often a recipe for disaster. 

This article is related to: Universal/Focus Features, Universal, Universal Pictures, NBC Universal


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.