By Daniel Miller and Meg James
4:56 PM CDT, September 9, 2013
NBCUniversal is shaking up the ranks of its movie studio, with longtime head Ron Meyer transitioning into a corporate advisory role.
In a surprise move, Jeff Shell, a longtime Comcast Corp. television executive who spent the last two years in London, will succeed Meyer in a newly created position as chairman of Universal Filmed Entertainment Group.
As part of the shake-up, Adam Fogelson, chairman of Universal Pictures, was fired on Monday morning. Donna Langley, co-chairman of Universal Pictures, will become sole chairman and report to Shell.
Tapping Shell, who has spent his career in television, came as a surprise to film business observers. But the company sees the increasing importance of the international film business as a key revenue driver and wants to exploit Shell's expertise in that arena.
“I have worked with [Shell] for over a decade and have been consistently impressed by his strategic vision, operational focus and energy," NBCUniversal Chief Executive Steve Burke said in a statement. "In addition, having led NBCUniversal’s international operations for the last two and a half years, Jeff is perfectly positioned to lead our film group at a time when global expansion is more important than ever."
Meyer will become vice chairman of parent company NBCUniversal and be an advisor to Burke on television and film matters. Meyer's deal, previously set to expire in 2015, has been extended two years.
Shell will have oversight of the movie studio, but not the company's theme parks. Shell and Meyer will continue to report to Burke.
Shell, a Los Angeles native, most recently served as chairman of NBCUniversal International, heading all of the company's overseas business, including international TV production and distribution.
Meyer, 68, has held his post since 1995.
“There is no one in Hollywood like Ron,” Burke said. “He is among the most accomplished, experienced and well-respected executives in the entertainment business."
Shell will preside over a resurgent movie studio. Universal has had a strong summer, buoyed by blockbusters "Despicable Me 2" and "Fast & Furious 6." However, those successes were somewhat dulled by "R.I.P.D.," an expensive sci-fi picture that tanked at the box office.
Shell, who is close with Burke, decamped to London in 2011 to take the job with NBCUniversal International. Shell, according to sources, had hoped for a top position in the company's stateside television operations.
But Shell was told by Burke that he would likely be rewarded later on with a more prominent job within the company, according to a person familiar with the conversation.
Shell and Meyer are said by observers to have very different business personas. While Meyer is the ultimate Hollywood insider -- he co-founded powerhouse talent agency Creative Artists Agency -- Shell, who is well-liked by his peers, is seen as an aggressive dealmaker.
Prior to the London job, for six years Shell served as president of Comcast Programming Group, overseeing the Philadelphia-based company's cable network holdings.
In 2010, Shell was considered for a top position with then-bankrupt Tribune Co., owner of The Times. He decided to stay with Comcast.
Shell also is chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, an agency of the U.S. government that oversees nonmilitary international broadcasting.
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