Veteran Hollywood executive Jonathan Dolgen has been named to head Paramount Pictures under a deal that will be formally announced today, sources close to the talks said Wednesday.
Dolgen will oversee movie and television operations at the studio under its new owner, Viacom Inc. Sources said he might also manage some of Viacom's existing entertainment operations. The Sony Pictures Entertainment executive was rumored to be on a short list of candidates for the job last week, but was believed to be locked into a long-term contract.
Alan J. Levine, Sony's chief operating officer, said the company agreed to release Dolgen from his contract late Tuesday, after he asked for the chance to take the new position.
"We thought it was a good opportunity for him, and it's something he really wanted to do," Levine said. "We didn't want to stand in his way."
The move puts Dolgen in a position of major authority at Paramount but also seems to undercut efforts to stabilize Sony, which has been wracked by management turnover in recent years. Levine said Executive Vice President Ken Lemberger will assume Dolgen's duties on an interim basis. News of Dolgen's departure created some friction on the Sony lot, where several other senior executives were said to be concerned about their futures.
Levine said he does not foresee other changes. Neither Dolgen nor Viacom could be reached for comment, but sources indicated that Dolgen will essentially fill the role that Paramount Communications Inc. President Stanley Jaffe played at the studio before his recent ouster.
That largely involves overseeing the activities of Paramount motion picture chief Sherry Lansing and TV head Kerry McCluggage, though one source said he might have an even broader entertainment title within Viacom. The long-term expectations for Lansing and McCluggage, who are both highly regarded within the industry, is unknown. Sources at Paramount said Lansing called a meeting of her staff late Wednesday to discuss the Dolgen move.
Sources first linked Dolgen to the Paramount job last week, after Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone and President Frank Biondi held a series of meetings with top Hollywood executives.
One reason Dolgen's name surfaced is that he and Biondi have worked together before. As a Columbia Pictures executive in the mid-1980s, Dolgen negotiated the sale of the studio's movies to HBO when Biondi was an executive there. The two later worked together at Columbia, under its former owner, Coca-Cola. Dolgen went on to work at 20th Century Fox, where he furthered his reputation as a tough-minded, sharp-witted executive with an incendiary temper.
He landed at Sony in 1991, where he mainly functioned as the cost-containment guru. Some creative people bristled at Dolgen's directives, but he steadily accumulated more authority. In November, Sony announced that its entire senior management team had extended their contracts. More recently, it said that Columbia Pictures Chairman Mark Canton and Dolgen had assumed new authority for running both Columbia and its sister studio, TriStar Pictures.
Sources said Dolgen's reputation for cost consciousness put him in good stead with Redstone and Biondi, who are committed to slashing expenses at the studio. Dolgen is expected to operate out of Los Angeles, even though Jaffe was based in New York.
Others named as possible candidates for the job were Michael Fuchs, chairman of HBO; Jeff Sagansky, president of CBS Inc.'s entertainment unit, and Arthur R. Barron, chairman of Time Warner International.
Times staff writer John Lippman contributed to this report.