Fox’s Debbie Liebling in talks to head production at Universal Pictures

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Universal Pictures, which has endured a horrible year at the box office with such costly misfires as ‘Land of the Lost,’ starring Will Ferrell, ‘Funny People,’ with Adam Sandler, and Sacha Baron Cohen’s ‘Bruno,’ is poised to bring in a new production chief.

Debbie Liebling, a veteran production executive at News Corp.'s 20th Century Fox, is in serious talks to become president of production for the studio. People close to the situation said Liebling is Universal’s top candidate to succeed Donna Langley, who was recently promoted to co-chair alongside chairman Adam Fogelson after a management reorganization that wiped out their former bosses Marc Shmuger and David Linde.

Universal still has to hammer out a deal with Liebling, and things could fall apart if the parties can’t come to terms.

But if all goes as planned, Liebling, who has been a top production executive at Fox since 2002, would be joining Universal at an interesting time. Not only is the studio reeling from a prolonged box-office slump, its parent company, NBC Universal, is on the verge of being acquired by cable giant Comcast Corp. That deal is expected to be announced as early as tomorrow.


During her tenure at Fox, Liebling oversaw such comedy hits as Cohen’s ‘Borat’ and ‘Dodgeball,’ but had less success after becoming production president of the studio’s struggling teen genre label Fox Atomic in January 2007. That unit was shuttered this past spring after a two-year money-losing run with such disappointments as ‘Jennifer’s Body,’ ‘I Love You, Beth Cooper’ and ‘Miss March.’

Liebling then went back to Fox’s main studio as an executive vice president of production but last month was passed over for the top production job that went to Emma Watts.

Liebling was also said to be recently courted by one of her former bosses, Walt Disney Co. movie chief Rich Ross, to potentially head the Burbank studio’s troubled specialty label Miramax Films. The two had previously worked together in television.

Prior to getting into the movie business, Liebling had programing stints at cable channels Comedy Central, FX, Nickelodeon and MTV. -- Claudia Eller