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DreamWorks films looks to TV industry for CEO

Michael Wright is now head of programming for TNT, TBS and Turner Classic Movies

The next chief executive of Steven Spielberg's film company, DreamWorks Studios, is coming from the TV industry.

Departing Turner Broadcasting executive Michael Wright will join the film studio at the beginning of next year. He will succeed CEO and Co-Chairman Stacey Snider, who is expected to join the 20th Century Fox studio after she leaves DreamWorks in January.

Wright is currently the head of programming for the cable channels TNT, TBS and Turner Classic Movies. At DreamWorks Studios, he will report directly to Spielberg and oversee the creative aspects of the motion picture business, despite a lack of experience in that area.

The appointment brings Wright to a company that has lately struggled to deliver big hits at the box office.

DreamWorks, which is a separate entity from publicly traded DreamWorks Animation SKG, has delivered successes such as Oscar-winners "The Help" and "Lincoln" in recent years. But it has also suffered disappointments including "The Fifth Estate" and "Cowboys & Aliens."

"It looks like it hasn't been easy for them," said Hal Vogel, an entertainment industry analyst. "They've been challenged by the market, and they probably haven't done as well as they would have hoped."

"The Fifth Estate," which starred Benedict Cumberbatch as Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, took in just $3.2 million domestically, making it one of the lowest-grossing wide-release movies of 2013.

The 2014 slate has been mixed. This summer's "The Hundred-Foot Journey," starring Helen Mirren, has grossed about $42 million after costing $22 million to make. Meanwhile, the $66-million spring release "Need for Speed" spun out in the U.S. with just $43 million in ticket sales.

For its new leadership in the movie business, Spielberg is looking to an executive he's worked with before for television projects.

Wright and Spielberg have worked together on multiple TV shows for Turner networks, including the 2005 mini series "Into the West," the postapocalyptic drama "Falling Skies" and the upcoming cop show "Public Morals."

"When Steven Spielberg asks, 'Would you like to come work with me?,' you just say yes and then 'Thank you' right after that," Wright said. "We have a relationship that goes back 12 to 13 years, and it's been pretty magical from the beginning. We have a pretty marvelous and rare creative compatibility."

Spielberg's TV company, Amblin Television, will remain a separate entity, DreamWorks said.

The current manifestation of DreamWorks launched in 2009 with a $325-million investment from the Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group, an Indian conglomerate.

DreamWorks Studios was formed in 1994 by Spielberg, current DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg and music mogul David Geffen. The animation division spun off in 2004, and Geffen exited in 2008.

"I have had the pleasure of working alongside Michael for many years and have come to know him as a talented executive whose creative vision, leadership and passion are a perfect fit for our company," Spielberg said in a statement.

Spielberg's upcoming movies with DreamWorks include an as-yet-untitled Cold War thriller and an adaptation of the classic Roald Dahl children's book "The BFG."

Wright's move also comes amid changes at Turner, which is owned by Time Warner Inc.

In his decade-plus career at Turner, Wright helped put TNT and TBS on the map with such original dramas as "The Closer," "Falling Skies" and "Men of a Certain Age." He also helped bring late-night host Conan O'Brien to TBS after the comic's high-profile exit from NBC.

"I had a great time in my television life," Wright said. "At a certain point, it's the right time to hand it [Turner] off to someone else and let them bring their voice and enthusiasm to the job."

His departure from Turner comes after the April exit of Turner Entertainment Networks head Steve Koonin.

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