Epilogue: Why MGM dumped its CEO

MGM’s Leo the Lion logo

One of the oddities of the long hiatus between SPECTRE and Bond 25 was how Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer extended the contract of CEO Gary Barber in October 2017 and then got rid of him in early 2018.

MGM, of course, has been the home studio of the 007 film series since the company acquired United Artists in 1981.

The New Yorker on Dec. 27 came out with a lengthy profile of Mark Burnett. Formerly, he was a reality TV mogul whose company made Survivor and The Apprentice. The latter featured now-U.S. President Donald Trump and helped shape his image in the 21st century. (That’s the primary reason for the Burnett profile.)

MGM acquired Burnett’s company in 2015 to bolster its TV operations. Burnett now oversees those operations, both reality programs and scripted dramas such as The Handmaid’s Tale.

According to the profile, Burnett worked with Kevin Ulrich, MGM’s chairman, to have Barber “kicked off the island.”

Barber was interested in selling the studio—a move that Ulrich opposed. According to several sources, Burnett began cultivating Ulrich, inviting him to events and introducing him to celebrities. Then, last March, M-G-M’s board informed Barber that he had been fired; he had just signed a contract extension, so the studio would pay him two hundred and sixty million dollars to leave. Despite this payment, he was incensed.

The disagreement about strategy between Barber and Ulrich was reported earlier this year by The Hollywood Reporter, Variety and Deadline: Hollywood. The New Yorker article provides some additional color.

“People who know Ulrich describe him as someone who relishes the flashy perquisites of Hollywood moguldom,” according to The New Yorker. “Whereas Barber liked to spend weekends quietly tending to the racehorses he owns, Ulrich liked going to parties and premières.”

MGM has yet to hire a replacement for Barber. Since Barber’s ouster, MGM has been run by a committee of executives. On the studio’s website, there’s a page featuring three key executives. One is Burnett. Another is his wife, Roma Downey,

There’s no business like show business.

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