Everyone Who Ran Hollywood Used to be Young. What Happened?
A 'grey ceiling', succession stalled: why so many feel stuck in the middle
When Mike De Luca, then 27, was named president of production at New Line Cinema in 1993, a 47-year-old former governor of Arkansas named Bill Clinton had just been sworn in as the 42nd president of the United States making him — at least at the time —the third-youngest president ever. The fall of the Berlin Wall four years earlier had been a harbinger, and a sense of youth, optimism and renewal was sweeping through the West. De Luca’s ascent to the top job at New Line at that young age was a testament to the risk-taking and vigor that had long pulsed through Hollywood — arguably the home of America’s greatest export, entertainment. And boy did he deliver. During De Luca’s tenure, New Line drove popular culture both high and low, taking bets on edgy, youth-driven fare like Austin Powers, Rush Hour, Seven and Boogie Nights, while introducing some of the greatest filmmakers of our era (David Fincher and Paul Thomas Anderson) along the way.
Fast forward almost three decades and that national sense of renewal has slowly yielded to a palpable sense of decline. In June of 2022 the White House was occupied by a 79-year-old Joe Biden, the oldest person to ever hold that office (eclipsing Donald Trump, formerly the oldest president when he was inaugurated at 70). It was also in June that De Luca — 57-years-old at this point — along with Pamela Abdy were announced as the new co-heads of Warner Bros. film division which, of course, includes New Line. The one-time Harley Davidson-driving-bad-boy-turned-father had come full circle. And while it’s too early to tell what the De Luca/Abdy era may portend, that’s not really the point. De Luca’s return to a now conglomerated perch (albeit a far more powerful one) is reflective of a broader trend that anyone surveying Hollywood’s upper ranks could recognize: the industry is looking decidedly long in the tooth these days.
When Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav, now 63, was on the hunt for his top executive last year, no one on his shortlist was under the age of 50. Sony Pictures Motion Picture Group’s Tom Rothman is 68. Paramount’s Brian Robbins is 59. Disney’s Sean Bailey is 51. Universal’s Donna Langley is 53. (As it turned out, he never hired anyone for the slot.) It’s not any younger at the major streamers. Amazon’s Jennifer Salke is 58, as is Netflix’s Ted Sarandos, whose top creative execs, Bela Bajaria and Scott Stuber, are 52 and 54, respectively.
Agencies, Execs and Succession
You know it’s gotten weird when people start drawing parallels between Hollywood and Washington D.C., where the median age of lawmakers in the U.S. Senate is almost 66. Hollywood is starting to resemble a gerontocracy, as power continues to consolidate, people no long talk of wunderkinds but rather years of experience, and succession plans seem uncertain.
Remember the “Young Turks”?
The former quintet of youthful CAA agents took over the agency in 1985 after Michael Ovitz defected to Disney. That group’s been whittled down to three: