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Lansing to Stay at Paramount : Movies: She will remain as studio head after the Viacom merger, according to Paramount sources. The fate of her boss, Stanley R. Jaffe, is not yet known.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sherry Lansing is staying. That much is certain.

Lansing, who has headed Paramount Pictures for the past 14 months, has quietly informed her staff that she has accepted an offer to remain in her post after the mega-merger between Viacom Inc. and Paramount Communications Inc. is completed.

Still uncertain, however, is what the future holds for Lansing’s boss, Stanley R. Jaffe, the combative president of Paramount Communications in New York, a job that oversees not only the famous studio but Paramount’s television, sports and publishing units.

Jaffe, Lansing’s close friend and one-time filmmaking partner, has been rumored for weeks to be on the way out, perhaps to buy his beloved New York Knicks and New York Rangers, which Paramount owns. Jaffe, however, has not announced that he intends to leave and was in Los Angeles last week working with Lansing.

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Since Viacom won the $10-billion bidding war earlier this month, questions have arisen over what will become of Lansing and the upper echelon of the studio when Viacom’s chairman, Sumner Redstone, and Chief Executive Officer Frank Biondi assume control of a new colossal media empire.

Some wondered if the 49-year-old Lansing--the highest-ranking woman in Hollywood--would go back to being a producer. But she seems to enjoy the hectic sometimes thankless job of running a major studio that had been all but moribund upon her arrival in late 1992 when she replaced Brandon Tartikoff.

But even on the day that the epic merger battle officially ended between Redstone’s Viacom and Barry Diller’s QVC Network, Lansing received a phone call from Redstone and Biondi asking her to stay.

Ironically, QVC Network had also privately assured Lansing earlier in the corporate tussle that she could remain even if Diller won.

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Lansing declined to be interviewed for this story, but Paramount sources said that her decision to remain studio chief was principally driven by her job satisfaction and a desire to work with the filmmakers she has brought to the lot and see their projects bear fruit. Lansing has four years remaining on a five-year contract.

Among the big-name filmmakers she has brought on board are Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy, Barry Levinson, Gail Anne Hurd, Alan Ladd Jr. and Walter Hill. She has also cemented relationships with Scott Rudin (“The Firm,” “Addams Family Values”). Rudin made a deal to go to TriStar Pictures after a loud fight with Jaffe, but Lansing soothed his hurt feelings and postponed his departure.

Earlier this month, trade publications reported that Sydney Pollack, who directed “The Firm,” was in final negotiations to close a production deal at Paramount.

In addition to those filmmakers, Lansing also hopes for big projects from Tom Cruise, who has a production office on the lot, as well as producers such as Mace Neufeld and Robert Rehme (“Patriot Games”), Lorne Michaels (“Wayne’s World”) and the ever-controversial Robert Evans, the one-time Paramount boss who last year produced the Sharon Stone film “Sliver.”

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Paramount had two certified hits in 1993 in “The Firm,” a legal thriller starring Cruise, and “Indecent Proposal,” a romantic comedy starring Robert Redford, which Lansing herself had begun producing before becoming studio chief.

But it also had a less-than-illustrious string of movies during the second half of the year. The highly anticipated sequels, “Wayne’s World 2" and “Addams Family Values,” did not generate the huge returns that the originals did.

The studio came in sixth in overall market share in 1993 with 15 releases; Lansing’s goal this year is to make more than 20 films.

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Among the movies in the wings are “Milk Money,” for which Lansing paid $1 million for the script alone; “Clear and Present Danger” with Harrison Ford; “Beverly Hills Cop III” with Eddie Murphy, and “Forest Gump” with Tom Hanks.

Three of the hottest scripts on the lot have gone to Ladd, the former head of MGM who recently joined Paramount. Ladd was given “The Brady Bunch” to develop and also has a Mel Gibson project, along with “Jericho Equation,” a thriller by the writers of “Predator,” which Lansing’s husband, William Friedkin, will direct.

The “go projects” include “Congo,” the Michael Crichton book for which Kennedy and Marshall are now scouting locations; a new “Star Trek,” which is in pre-production, and director John Badham’s “Drop Zone,” a film about a U.S. marshal who gets involved in sky-diving while investigating the murder of his partner, which is just weeks away from the start of shooting.

Lansing intends to keep her creative team in place. Under the supervision of John Goldwyn, that team includes senior vice presidents Karen Rosenfelt and Michelle Manning; vice presidents of production Bob Jaffe, Don Granger and Tom Levine, and vice presidents of creative affairs Bradley Kessell and John-Michael Maas.

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While Bob Jaffe, Stanley’s son, has strong support within Paramount’s leadership, there are some on the lot who wonder if he would remain should his father leave.

“He has been a nonentity,” said one critic of Bob Jaffe. “He’s supervising (the filming of) ‘I.Q.,’ which is shooting screen tests right now for the role of Einstein, and he’s off on a skiing vacation. . . . Well, he has a safety net.”

Bob Jaffe’s office said Friday that he was not in and that he never talks to the press.

Lansing’s efforts to re-energize Paramount were hampered because, during the uncertainty over the studio’s ownership, the creative community wanted to know if she would be around to see projects to completion.

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“They’ve been aggressively (looking for scripts) but there has been a cloud over the horizon,” said one industry observer. “Everything has kind of been in a holding pattern at the studio.”

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While Lansing went about her work during her first year filling an empty film pipeline, criticism arose in some quarters that the studio was working directors to the bone, giving them impossible post-production deadlines to meet--a charge Lansing in earlier interviews strongly denied. She has said she would rather postpone the release of a film if the directors felt they needed more time.

“The rap was that if you had a picture in production during the last couple of months, they’d been real hard-ass on you to complete it,” said a source, who like other Paramount sources for this story asked not to be identified.

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Some speculated that studio hierarchy became stern taskmasters because executives on the West Coast wanted to show Viacom and QVC that they weren’t squandering resources.

“Their line (to filmmakers) was, ‘We’re running a tight ship here,’ ” one source recalled.

The marketing department was said to be under pressure to successfully release “Blue Chips,” the Nick Nolte basketball film directed by Friedkin. The film opened Feb. 18 to a healthy $10.2 million at the box office.

“The rumor was there was a lot riding on ‘Blue Chips’ and they were dumping a ton of money on it to make it open,” the source said.

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Lansing had also come in for criticism after Friedkin made a multi-picture deal at Paramount and received high-profile projects. Lansing has earlier said that to avoid any conflict of interest, she leaves all business dealings involving her husband’s films to Stanley Jaffe, who personally oversaw the making of “Blue Chips.”

In her job, Lansing is on the telephone daily with Jaffe in New York, discussing the status of films in the works. While she has the authority to greenlight films, she concedes that she confers with him before signing off on them.

But should Jaffe depart, the question would then be, how would Lansing perform without someone as her sounding board in New York?

Despite such uncertainties, sources say her decision to stay at Paramount--with no guarantee that Jaffe will remain--shows her independence.

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She is doing what is best for her, a Paramount insider said, although she loves Stanley and the working relationship she has with him.


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