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Universal production shake-up: Debbie Liebling out; Peter Cramer, Jeffrey Kirschenbaum promoted

May 2, 2011 | 12:26 pm

Debbie Liebling, Universal Pictures' production president, has been forced out of her post after just 18 months on the job. In her place, the studio promoted executives Peter Cramer and Jeffrey Kirschenbaum as co-presidents of production.

"Over the past 18 months, as we refined our process, it became clear that a different structure would better suit our needs going forward," said Universal Chairman Adam Fogelson and Co-Chairman Donna Langley. "The new structure will have a smaller executive team with broader responsibilities. Debbie has been a good leader and strong contributor through this transition period and we wish her well in her endeavors." Universal said Liebling was leaving "to pursue other opportunities."

Liebling, who joined Universal in December 2009 after seven years as a top executive at 20th Century Fox, had a challenging time during her short-lived tenure at the studio. With senior management -- led by Fogelson and Langley -- heavily involved in production decisions, her role as president was somewhat diminished, according to people familiar with the situation who were not authorized to speak on the record. Liebling was hired at a time when Universal was under pressure to turn around its struggling movie unit after a string of expensive box-office misses such as "Land Of The Lost" and "Funny People."

At Fox, Liebling had a mixed track record. She shepherded such comedy hits as Sacha Baron Cohen's "Borat" and "Dodgeball," starring Ben Stiller, but had far less success with the studio's now-defunct genre label Fox Atomic. Prior to joining Fox, she had a strong run at Comedy Central, overseeing such shows as "South Park."

Liebling was unavailable for immediate comment Monday. The news was first reported by entertainment industry website Deadline Hollywood.

Liebling's departure comes on the heels of Universal's huge weekend box-office success of its action sequel "Fast Five," which earned $86.2 million -- the biggest debut of the year and the studio's highest opening of all time. With a few exceptions, including its recent animated release "Hop" and last year's animated blockbuster "Despicable Me," Universal has struggled in the last few years; box-office disappointment include "Your Highness" and "Green Zone."

Universal and its sister company NBC are now under intense scrutiny from their new corporate parent Comcast Corp. Observers of the movie studio have expected some management shuffling for some time. The question now is whether the executive reorganization will stop here or eventually affect the upper management ranks headed by Universal Studios President and Chief Operating Officer Ron Meyer, Fogelson and Langley.

Cramer, who has been with Universal since 2005 and most recently served as senior executive vice president of production, was passed over for a promotion when Liebling was hired. He is viewed as a steady hand who understands the studio's politics, according to two people close to the executive. He will now be paired with Kirschenbaum, who most recently was executive vice president of production, serving as part of Universal's team since 2001. Kirschenbaum was the studio executive in charge of the "Fast Five" production and is currently overseeing the big-budget production of "Battleship."

-- Nicole Sperling

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