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Disney's Iger needs to move quickly to name new studio chief

September 21, 2009 |  2:40 pm

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Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bob Iger needs to act quickly to replace studio head Dick Cook if he wants to avoid further destabilizing Walt Disney Studios. Cook's abrupt departure has been a source of anxiety and distraction for the thousands who worked for him, not to mention the many stars and filmmakers who crave stability and need assurances that their projects will stay on track. The company is also trying to figure out how to integrate its pending $4-billion acquisition of Marvel Entertainment into its own operations and be attentive to its recently struck distribution deal with Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks.

Iger would presumably have someone in place for the upcoming board meeting in a couple of weeks.

While Iger's not whispering in our ears, one candidate that's a source of speculation within Hollywood is Disney Channels Worldwide President Rich Ross.

Ross' star has been on the rise within the entertainment company since his successful rehab of Disney Channel, once an also-ran pay cable network that now reaches nearly 100 million households nationwide  and has generated such billion-dollar creative franchises as "High School Musical" and "Hannah Montana."

The 47-year-old executive is well regarded within Disney for being a forward-thinking and strategic executive who is also a good manager. As someone who began his entertainment career in the mail room of the William Morris Agency, Ross has always appreciated the value of strong talent relationships. He has also helped Disney Channel forge relationships with the company's other divisions, so a popular TV property like "High School Musical" can generate additional revenue for the company through sales of music CDs, movies, merchandise, stage shows and theme park attractions.

Such cross-divisional collaboration and "brand management" is a high priority for Iger, who often extols the work of Disney Channel on calls with Wall Street analysts.

To be sure, Ross has had limited experience on the movie side of the business (he was involved in the theatrical projects based on Disney Channel shows), having spent his entire professional career in television.

Ross could not be reached for comment.

Another highly touted prospect for the top studio job is Pixar and Disney Animation Studios chief creative officer John Lasseter, who directed the critically acclaimed films "Toy Story" and "Toy Story 2." Lasseter is also principal creative advisor for Walt Disney Imagineering, the group that develops attractions for the theme parks.

Then again, Iger could effect a restructuring and split Cook's job among two or more executives.

-- Dawn C. Chmielewski and Claudia Eller

Photo: Rich Ross. Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

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