The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
on entertainment and media

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Is Universal's search for a new production chief almost over?

December 2, 2009 |  5:42 pm

My colleagues over at Company Town broke the news today that Universal is about to hire 20th Century Fox production executive Debbie Liebling as the studio's new production chief (as they reported, talks with Liebling are underway, but no deal has been struck yet).

Liebling It was widely known that former production chief Donna Langley, who was recently named the studio's co-chairman, was looking around town for a replacement. In fact, Langley's talent search was such an open secret that in late October I wrote a post offering a short list of top execs for her to choose from. Like any reporter, my first reaction when I read the news was panic -- did I actually have Liebling on my list?

So I just raced back and took a look -- and breathed a huge sigh of relief. There she was, right smack in the middle, with the following description: "One of the studio's top talents, Liebling ran the short-lived Fox Atomic label. She has great talent relationships and a great eye for comedy, having worked on such hits as 'Borat' and 'Dodgeball.' "

If Universal ends up hiring Liebling, the reason will be obvious: she knows comedy and at today's studios, comedy is king, being far and away the most popular genre of film in terms of risk to reward, having relatively low costs but high box-office potential. At Fox, Liebling was the studio's leading comedy maven, having strong relationships with the likes of Jay Roach, Ben Stiller, the Farrelly brothers and Sacha Baron Cohen. If she heads to Universal, you can bet she'll be gearing up to help revive the studio's comedy fortunes, which took a swan dive this summer with the failures of "Land of the Lost," "Bruno" and "Funny People."

PREVIOUSLY: UNIVERSAL'S NEXT PRESIDENT OF PRODUCTION: THE SHORT LIST

Photo of Debbie Liebling from 20th Century Fox.

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