Scene Stealers: From Moguls to Mortals

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Scene Stealers

By BROOKS BARNES

LOS ANGELES — Some out-of-work Hollywood moguls handle the transition from general to civilian with grace.

But they can also be one of moviedom’s saddest sights. Some are very obviously at loose ends, no matter what kind of face they put on. Others seem terrified about a table downgrade at Mr. Chow.

And some are just utterly out of touch, as when one former media titan, struggling to adjust to life without an always-idling private jet, arrived at an airport and was baffled by the touch-screen check-in procedure. What, pray tell, were these newfangled kiosk devices? (I am so not joking.)

Hollywood has lately become populated with an unusually large number of free-floating moguls; guys (and they are still almost always guys) who find themselves reigning supreme as media kingpins one day and facing down an existential crisis as mere millionaires the next.

They include Jeffrey Katzenberg, the former DreamWorks Animation chief; Jim Gianopulos, replaced as the big boss at 20th Century Fox in June; Philippe Dauman, dismissed as Viacom’s leader in August; and Rob Friedman, eased aside as co-chairman of Lionsgate in September.

There are several more examples, including Rob Moore, who recently lost his job as vice chairman of Paramount Pictures.

“It’s upsetting, no question, when you are suddenly dislodged from your life,” Mr. Moore told me. “You’re raw, and you’re vulnerable. Even though you know this eventually happens to most everyone at a certain level in Hollywood — that’s just how it works in a hit-driven business — it’s still a surprise.

Jim Gianopulos, formerly the head of 20th Century Fox.

Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

“In these all-consuming jobs, your co-workers become the next-closest thing to your children and parents, and not communicating with them in the same way all of a sudden leaves a big gap. You feel a sense of loss.”

Don’t feel too bad for Mr. Moore. Under his old contract, Paramount has to pay him for three years, so he has no immediate pressure to find a new gig, even though most people in Hollywood expect him to be courted by a Chinese movie company.

Mr. Moore, 54, also has a new fiancée, Betty Zhou, 35, who is the host of a show on Chinese television called “Talking to Hollywood With Betty Zhou.” (No, contrary to Hollywood gossip, he did not propose to her on live TV. But they did pose for photos afterward while offering a Vulcan salute.)

Mr. Moore, who sounded relaxed during our interview, said that he had recently returned from Europe (“the first real vacation I’ve had in 15 years”) and was now starting to think about his next career move. “Where’s the growth?” he asked rhetorically. “Where would be a fun place to work next? At some point, you get through the shock of what happened and start getting excited about new opportunities.”

So far, put Mr. Moore squarely in the graceful category.

How are his jettisoned compatriots doing, emotionally and otherwise? It is hard to know. Whether trying to fly under the radar while putting together a new act, licking wounds, or still miffed about coverage (mine specifically) of their departure, they declined interview requests. But this much is clear: None are ready to leave the stage.

Mr. Gianopulos, 64, whose departure from Fox, where he spent 24 years, revealed considerable good will toward him as people rallied to his side, has been courted by financiers for potential partnerships.

Mr. Friedman, 65, one of the architects behind Summit Entertainment, which hit pay dirt with the “Twilight” film series and then sold itself to Lionsgate, has been hired as a consultant for Paramount’s “Transformers: The Last Knight,” set for June release. According to Mr. Friedman’s friends, he may decide to start a new studio.

None have been more visible than Mr. Katzenberg, 65, whose studio career stretched from Paramount to Walt Disney Studios to DreamWorks Animation, which he sold to Comcast in April for $3.8 billion.

But Comcast did not want one asset — him — and so Mr. Katzenberg left the company, a moment that was marked by a ceremony outside the Chinese Theater, where his footprints were immortalized in cement. Variety gave him a 37-page tribute that played like a retirement party, replete with praise and well-wishes from stars. (Elton John: “How did he do such amazing stunts with those little feet?”)

Anne Sweeney stepped down as president of the Disney-ABC Television Group.

Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images

That was in September. But by then, the hard-charging Mr. Katzenberg was already starting a holding company that aims to emulate Barry Diller’s IAC/InterActive Corporation, which owns internet businesses like Match.com and Vimeo.

Several of Mr. Katzenberg’s friends told me that he is working to raise $500 million to $700 million in funding to invest in “mobile content” start-ups that his new company will help incubate and operate. For now, Mr. Katzenberg is also still a consultant to AwesomenessTV, a digital media studio that is owned by Comcast and Verizon.

All of these bigwigs will be just fine, of course. None certainly have to worry about feeding their families, like a lot of Americans who lose their jobs.

Mr. Dauman, 62, who ruled over MTV, Comedy Central and Paramount for a decade as the top Viacom executive, received $72 million in exit compensation.

Mr. Katzenberg personally collected more than $400 million from the sale of his “Shrek” studio, money he has said will largely go toward his philanthropic work. (“That money doesn’t change anything for me,” he told Variety. “I was already blessed. I was already rich.”)

But perception is another matter.

Leaving any high-powered, global job requires an altitude adjustment. But leaving one in hierarchy-obsessed Hollywood — or having the job leave you, as is more often the case — can be traumatizing on a whole different scale.

Sure, cue the tiny violins if you want. But one week, these people are fielding calls from A-listers and making decisions about what millions of people around the world will watch. The next week, they are faced with starring in their own version of “The Incredible Shrinking Man.” Calls get returned, but slower. The media spotlight shifts to the next regime, and you start being called an “elder statesman.”

Show business is a small, incestuous and, in some cases, cruel club. Unlike other industries, almost everyone in Hollywood lives in a bubble (Beverly Hills and Brentwood during the week, Malibu over the weekend), making it nearly impossible to escape the peer pressure.

“What are you doing next?” becomes a question that burns like acid. Because status here is openly telegraphed (the platform banquette at the Palm, the early-hour invitation to Vanity Fair’s Oscar party) everyone notices when you lose it.

Rob Moore was vice chairman of Paramount Pictures.

Kevin Winter / Getty Images

So what is the best way to navigate this transition?

Curious for the perspective of those who have left megawatt Hollywood jobs in the past, I called three people who have done it with aplomb. None were fired, instead leaving on their own terms — a big difference. But each had to face the same question as everyone else: Now what?

“These jobs are so all-consuming that, when you are in the middle of them, it’s hard to clear your mind enough to think about what you want to do after it’s done,” said Barry Meyer, 72, who retired as chairman of Warner Bros. in 2013 after a celebrated run. “So you have to be willing to give yourself some time.”

Quick moves, he added, are usually the wrong ones.

“I don’t think there was a start-up west of the Mississippi that didn’t reach out to me, and that was flattering,” he said. “But I quickly realized that a lot of people just want your Rolodex and your name to put on announcements. When you spend 40-plus years building your credibility and your reputation, you have to be careful about how you use that.”

In the end, among other things, Mr. Meyer decided to join the board of a fast-growing entertainment company (Activision) and take on something he never thought he would: He sits on the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. “As it turns out, there is life outside Hollywood,” he said with a laugh.

For another former Hollywood warrior, Anne Sweeney, 59, who stepped down as president of the Disney-ABC Television Group last year, her post-corporate plans were quickly upended when her mother fell ill. Instead of throwing herself into a directing career, as she intended, Ms. Sweeney cared for her mother through her death in January. Not long after, Ms. Sweeney, already a Netflix board member, became a Mayo Clinic trustee.

“I learned that a job is just a piece of you, it isn’t all of you,” she said. “So many times, especially in Hollywood, that distinction can get lost.” Her advice when that happens? “You have to reclaim yourself, and you have to do it without worrying what other people think,” she said. “We are more than other people’s definitions of us.”

Nina Tassler, 59, who last year walked away from her job as president of CBS Entertainment, is moving as fast as ever, publishing a book (“What I Told My Daughter”) and producing television shows, among other activities. Her advice: “It’s not about starting a new business. It’s about starting yourself.”

In other words, savor the joy of being “fully present” with your family, she said, and “do what you want to do, and not what you think you have to do” to cling to status.

“I was so grateful for my time at CBS, but, let’s be honest, these jobs are insane,” she said. “I remember being at my daughter’s volleyball tournament and not seeing her play because I was in the bathroom at the convention center — the only quiet spot — trying to negotiate a new contract with an actress. Insane!”

How long did it take, though, for Ms. Tassler not to wake up and immediately check the overnight Nielsen ratings?

“I still look,” she said, a bit sheepishly. “Old habits die hard.”

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