THE LION ROARS: GARY BARBER FEELS THE BURNETT

Stunning news broke last night about the ouster of Gary Barber from the helm of MGM.  It’s not that stunning that a film company would lose its leader because these things happen, the business we’ve chosen, all that.  But his ouster brings the question: was the steady hand Barber done in by a more high-profile, free-wheeling rival within the company?

MGM, in fits and starts, seemed under Barber a place that was building something in the gap being abandoned by the studios.

Now all that is up in the air, or down the drain, depending on whom you ask.

The midnight ouster of a man who has done what almost no one at the wheel in Hollywood these days can claim – resurrected a troubled company – fell to the hurricane-force winds stirring up Hollywood and turning everyone into twitchy, nervous wrecks about the future.

Barber’s tension with the board boiled over about what they see as the model for a gross-driven company. While Barber’s horse-racing hobby paints a picture of a free-spending bon vivant, in business he is one of the most famously conservative, line-item scrutinizing execs around; a man who brought MGM back from the dead by making every penny get on the floor and give him twenty.

Playing against this, however, is the specter of IP Bob hanging over every executive in town. There was a sentiment among the board that either you’re making giant, planetary bets on huge properties to build a Death Star for the future, or you’re a bucket full of chum waiting to be gobbled up by any passing school of porpoises.

Barber, with his conservative style, was not a man prone to the sorts of huge, risky bets the Board was aching for more of, and that came to a head last night.

Complicating this, the Ankler can EXCLUSIVELY REPORT were tensions between Barber and MGM’s TV Chieftain Mark Burnett.  Burnett was said to be annoyed that the movie side was not keeping pace, revenue-wise with his Survivor and The Voice cash machines and relations were strained between the two men at the top.

In particular, Burnett has of late, gotten notably close to Board Chair Kevin Ulrich, whom in the past had been known as a very good friend of Barber’s. The hand of Burnett in turning the board against Barber is suspected by many; the backdoor secret machinations made all the more treacherous by the late night move against a man who had just signed himself up a new five year deal with the company.

I’m told that Barber was blindsided by the sudden decision, sprung, as noted with no groundwork laid or preparation. Looking on, it’s a pretty impressively shabby way to treat the man who is responsible for the company very existence today.

The question now, having ousted their steady-as-she-goes CEO, is where does the Board take this.  Easy to say – let’s get into the Universe game, but there’s not exactly a ton of globally beloved comic book lines or adventure series just sitting there waiting for someone to pick them up off the floor.

More to the point, now that they’ve slipped loose from the bearings, is the drift to consolidation going to be something MGM can resist?  With money on the table looking to swallow up libraries and IP, will the board – and Mark Burnett – be able to say no to whatever a quick payday comes along?

And in the meantime, the movie business takes one more lurch towards disarray.

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