Brad Grey leaves struggling Paramount Pictures as search for new studio chief begins

Paramount Pictures Chairman Brad Grey has finalized his exit from Viacom Inc. after 12 years managing the legendary movie studio that has struggled to produce box-office hits.

Grey’s departure, which was telegraphed last week and announced Wednesday, takes effect immediately. It comes as Viacom’s new chief executive, Bob Bakish, aggressively shakes up the management ranks of the New York media company controlled by ailing media baron Sumner Redstone.

“It has been my privilege to be a part of Paramount’s storied history, and I am grateful to Sumner Redstone for giving me this opportunity,” Grey said in a memo to his staff. 

Grey said he would “remain engaged” during an unspecified period to ensure a smooth transition to a new regime.

Bakish said he would work closely with Paramount’s leadership team while the executive search is underway.

Possible candidates to run the studio include former Warner Bros. film executive Jeff Robinov, former Fox film chief Jim Gianopulos and Rob Friedman, who left rival studio Lionsgate in September.

Grey had three years remaining on his employment contract. He had negotiated a five-year deal in summer 2015 and began negotiating the terms of his departure about two weeks ago. 

Terms of Grey’s exit were not disclosed.

“It was simply time for a change in leadership,” BTIG Research media analyst Rich Greenfield said in a report this week.

In recent years, several analysts have openly questioned whether Paramount needed new management. The studio lost $445 million in fiscal 2016 because of a string of box-office misfires, and Bakish said in an interview with The Times last month that the studio’s management had become dysfunctional with top executives refusing to speak to one another.

Grey is the latest in a string of high-level departures from Paramount.

Bakish this month unfurled a new strategy to pull Paramount closer into the Viacom fold. The studio now will dedicate about half of its slate to films that have tangible ties to Viacom’s leading TV channels, including MTV, Nickelodeon, BET and Comedy Central.

Paramount, in its glory years, produced such classics as “The Godfather,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and “Terms of Endearment,” but studio economics are more challenging these days.

Paramount has been buoyed by such franchise juggernauts as “Transformers” and “Star Trek,” but it stumbled with the reboot of “Rings,” “Zoolander” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows.” Last month’s dud, “Monster Trucks,” resulted in a $115-million writedown by Viacom months before the film was even released.

Before joining Paramount, Grey was a top-flight Hollywood talent manager and partner at Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, enjoying producer credits on such hits as HBO’s “The Sopranos” and  “Real Time With Bill Maher.”

He is known as a preeminent survivor who forged close relationships with the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Martin Scorsese, Brad Pitt and Viacom’s controlling shareholder family, notably Redstone and his daughter, Shari Redstone, who is vice chair of Viacom. He has told friends that he is planning to take some time off.

“Brad has overseen the production and distribution of some of Paramount’s most celebrated hits, and more recently championed the successful relaunch of the studio’s television division,” Bakish said in a statement. “We are grateful for his 12 years of extraordinary service and wish him every continued success.”

Last month, Grey secured a partnership with Chinese studio Shanghai Film Group and marketing and distribution company Huahua Media that is expected to provide $1 billion in film financing over three years to reduce Viacom’s risk. Paramount has also enjoyed a strong awards season this year with its alien visitation movie “Arrival” and the Denzel Washington drama “Fences.” Both are in contention for a best picture Oscar on Sunday. 

Viacom shares closed down 19 cents, or 0.4%, to $44.51 on Wednesday.

Times staff writer Ryan Faughnder contributed to this report.

meg.james@latimes.com

Twitter: @MegJamesLAT


UPDATES:

3:20 p.m.:This article was updated with additional information on Grey’s departure.

This article was originally published at 1:20 p.m.

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