January 30th, 2019

carole lombard 03
  • vp19

Fox is fading away; will Paramount follow?



"To Be Or Not To Be" filled Carole Lombard with pride for numerous reasons. It finally enabled her to work with director Ernst Lubitsch (born 137 years ago yesterday). It attacked fascism and Nazism as World War II ravaged Europe. And as it was a United Artists production, it let her complete the circuit of Hollywood's eight major studios: First, Fox...



...Paramount...



...Columbia...



...MGM...



...Universal...



...Warners...



...and RKO:



Some lots were more successful for Lombard (Columbia, RKO) than others (MGM, Warners).

Today, RKO -- which died as a major studio more than 60 years ago -- exists in name only (to borrow a title from one of Carole's films there), and MGM is for all intents and purposes an independent production company.

As a filmmaking studio, Fox (now Twentieth Century-Fox) soon will cease to exist, as Disney is in the process of acquiring its cinematic assets. (Fox will retain its TV network, news channel and most of its sports holdings.) And in an increasingly corporatized Hollywood, there's talk the next legacy studio to go will be...



Paramount, where Carole spent seven sometimes confounding years, many where it never quite knew how to use her.

An industry titan as late as the '90s, a combination of an altered industry landscape and inept management has left Paramount vulnerable for takeover or absorption by one of its larger rivals -- the now all-powerful Disney, Warners, Universal or Sony/Columbia (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/17/business/media/paramount-pictures.html). This morning, Variety reported Paramount had laid off 20 employees in several departments (https://variety.com/2019/film/news/paramount-pictures-lays-off-20-legal-tv-business-affairs-1203123598/).

In recent years, Paramount has primarily focused on TV production; only 13 films were released in 2018, far fewer than its rivals. And unlike Disney (Marvel/Star Wars/Pixar), Warners (DC Comics) or Columbia (building new characters from the Spider-Man universe, separate from Disney's Marvel holdings), Paramount has little such product to rely on for brand power, aside from Michael Bay's Transformers. That's crucial today, as the moviegoing audience is comprised of families at one end of the spectrum and adolescent males on the other. Tina Fey recently disparaged movie opportunities for women compared to that in TV (https://www.thewrap.com/tina-fey-women-have-made-progress-in-tv-business-but-films-are-a-mess/).




But Paramount's been on the ropes before. Soon after it announced the Lombard vehicle "No One Man" in 1931, the Depression hit full force and it was among the Hollywood studios affected. Paramount might not have survived had it not been for the arrival of Mae West and her saucy vehicles. This time, however, the iconic studio on Melrose Avenue may need something far bigger than Mae's outsized personality.
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