As the public face and pugnacious spirit behind his company, Harvey Weinstein made himself synonymous with a kind of prestige cinema that was designed to attract discerning audiences and scoop up Oscars by the armful.
Weinstein Co.’s decision to fire him Sunday after explosive allegations that he sexually harassed numerous women over a course of more than two decades now raises the question of whether the Weinstein brand can survive without Harvey Weinstein, and who will take the reins of the indie film company that bears the family name.
Despite efforts to rebrand and rebuild, the scandal may ultimately be too much for the New York company, which has about 150 employees, to survive, said Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, senior associate dean at the Yale School of Management.
“This is an obituary,” Sonnenfeld said. “There are lots of bad business stumbles where an enterprise and a CEO can recover. Not in this case. This is something you never get off your shoe…. It's just permanently soiled.”
Representatives of Weinstein Co. declined to comment.
For now, the business is being run by his brother Bob Weinstein and President David Glasser, who are taking steps to distance the company from Harvey.
The executives are planning to rename the business and to scrub Harvey Weinstein’s name from TV credits, said a person familiar with the matter not authorized to comment. The studio, which has increasingly turned to TV as its cinematic slate has shrunk in the last five years, is behind such series as “Six” on the History Channel, “Project Runway” on Lifetime and the upcoming miniseries “Waco” on the Paramount Network (now Spike).
No decisions have been made about whether Harvey Weinstein’s name will appear on future movies. Upcoming theatrical releases include the historical drama “The Current War,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Shannon, currently scheduled to open in limited release next month; “Paddington 2,” in January; and “The Upside,” starring Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart, in March.
Additionally, the Weinstein Co. board and executives are trying to figure out how to get Harvey Weinstein to relinquish his shares in the business, possibly by selling them or transferring them to his brother. The brothers own 42% of the company.
Before the board voted to fire Harvey Weinstein on Sunday, the mogul made a last-ditch effort to save his job. In an email sent to various Hollywood executives, including Jeffrey Katzenberg, Weinstein asked them to send letters to the board in support of him. But that appeal fell on deaf ears.
“The response was unfavorable,” said a spokesperson for Katzenberg, the former CEO of DreamWorks Animation.
At a chaotic and tense meeting last week, Weinstein sought to assure board members that he was getting help and could return the company to its glory days. He also sought a guarantee that he would be able to return to the company after its investigation, but directors balked at the demand, said a person familiar with the matter not authorized to comment.
Forging a path without its co-founder and co-chairman will be difficult, however. Studio heads are often fired and forced to step down in Hollywood’s merry-go-round of executives, but few studios are as inextricably linked to their top executives as Weinstein Co. Harvey, who co-founded Weinstein Co. in 2005 as a follow-up to the brothers’ previous company, Miramax, was a micromanager who drove creative decisions and took a personal interest in picking, promoting and editing movies.
Other personality driven companies have survived their own scandals after their visionary leaders got into trouble. Martha Stewart was busted for obstructing a federal investigation into insider stock trading in 2004. Fashion designer and businessman Steve Madden was sent to prison in 2002 for stock manipulation. Both companies moved on and thrived. But the Weinstein matter is in a completely different category, Sonnenfeld said.
“In those cases, you didn't have the cruel abuse of innocent people,” he said of the Stewart and Madden matters. “There is sensitivity to the victims in this case, and it isn't a single instance, it’s a pattern of abuse of power.”
In an initial statement responding to the allegations, Weinstein appeared to apologize for unspecified past behavior. Yet he also blamed his alleged conduct to coming of age “in the 1960s and ’70s, when all of the rules about behavior and workplaces were different.”
Weinstein Co. was facing challenges even before the sexual harassment allegations against its co-founder were made public.
The studio has struggled to produce commercial hits in recent years, and there have been signs that its all-important Oscar luster has faded. In addition, the independent film business has become increasingly challenging because of growing competition from new distributors, streaming services and declining theater attendance.
Bob Weinstein will be instrumental to any possible recovery after the recent debacle. He had spent the last few days pushing the board to remove his brother, saying Harvey needed professional help, according to a person familiar with the matter not authorized to comment.
Since their days running Miramax, Bob Weinstein has kept a lower public profile than the high-voltage Harvey, overseeing the company’s Dimension division, which releases family-friendly and genre titles such as “Paddington” and the “Scary Movie” films.
Another key player is Glasser. Known for his ability to handle his former boss’ volatile management style, Glasser has overseen multiple facets of the company since joining in 2008.
“It would come as no surprise to me if the company would turn to David,” said Tom Nunan, a lecturer at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television and a veteran movie and TV executive. “He’s an expert on independent film, high-profile acquisitions and an expert in TV. Those qualities would make him a serious candidate for the board to consider.”
But his and Bob Weinstein’s future with the company could be clouded by their close association with Harvey and mounting publicity over his alleged misbehavior.
Over the weekend, TV reporter Lauren Sivan went public with her account of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment of her when she worked for New York channel News 12 Long Island. Sivan on Monday appeared on NBC’s “Megyn Kelly Today,” saying the mogul cornered her a decade ago at a New York City restaurant, tried to kiss her, and masturbated in front of her. Sivan is now a reporter with Los Angeles Fox affiliate KTTV.
“I could not believe what I was witnessing,” Sivan told Kelly. “It was disgusting and kind of pathetic.”
In the immediate wake of the accusations that broke Thursday in the New York Times, the entertainment industry faced criticism for its muted response. But on Monday, more celebrities came forward to condemn Weinstein’s behavior, including Meryl Streep, who won an Oscar for the Weinstein-distributed “The Iron Lady.” The actress said in a statement that the alleged behavior is “inexcusable” while adding that she was previously unaware of the accusations and settlements to some of Weinstein’s victims.
Actress Jessica Chastain wrote on Twitter on Monday, “I was warned from the beginning. The stories were everywhere. To deny that is to create an environment for it to happen again.”