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Universal Boss Out After Movie Flop

December 1, 1998

UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. (AP) _ Professionally speaking, Casey Silver just met Joe Black.

The Universal Pictures chairman was forced to resign Monday after his movie division suffered a terrible year, culminating with the holiday weekend’s disastrous opening of the expensive sequel ``Babe: Pig in the City.″

Other box office flops that have landed Universal second-to-last among major studios were ``Primary Colors,″ ``Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,″ ``Out of Sight,″ and the Nov. 13 release of ``Meet Joe Black,″ starring Brad Pitt as the Grim Reaper. It cost more than $85 million to make and has only grossed $35.8 million after three weeks.

Silver was informed Sunday night by his boss, Universal Studios president and chief operating officer Ron Meyer, that the company wanted to make its second high-level management change this month. Two weeks ago, Universal Studios chairman and chief executive Frank Biondi Jr. got the boot.

``It’s their prerogative and I respect their decision,″ Silver told The Associated Press. ``I want to help the company in whatever way I can for an orderly and smooth transition.″

Silver had been head of Universal’s movie production, marketing and distribution since November 1995. His duties will now be taken over by Meyer, a former agent who has emerged as the winner in the Universal shakeup by parent Seagram Co.

Meyer had been given more responsibilities during the restructuring. Meyer will report directly to Seagram CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr., who is taking a more active role in the liquor company’s entertainment businesses, which include music and television.

Silver will continue to work with Universal as an independent producer. Terms of the new arrangement haven’t been reached.

Silver’s job security had been in question for months, as Universal released one dud after another. Even the well-reviewed film ``Out of Sight″ with George Clooney failed to generate box office heat, grossing just $37.5 million.

This has left Universal ahead of only financially struggling MGM in market share among the major studios.

Speculation that Silver’s firing was imminent intensified when Biondi was shown the door. This weekend, the situation became even worse when ``Babe: Pig in the City,″ the $90 million follow-up to the successful 1995 ``Babe,″ grossed only $8.2 million over the long Thanksgiving weekend for fifth place. The movie got buried by two other family-oriented features, Disney’s ``A Bug’s Life″ and Paramount’s ``The Rugrats Movie.″

``Pig in the City″ was plagued by last-minute problems in the editing room and couldn’t be completed on time, forcing Universal to cancel a star-studded benefit premiere and a weekend media event, denying the film much-needed publicity. The movie received generally positive reviews, though some critics found the G-rated picture too dark for youngsters.

The grim opening for ``Pig in the City″ followed the disappointing debut of ``Meet Joe Black,″ a three-hour romance drama that was critically lambasted.

The outlook for the rest of the year is mixed. On Friday, the studio releases the controversial shot-by-shot color remake of the Hitchcock classic ``Psycho,″ which Universal is not previewing for critics and the media _ often a sign of trouble.

Universal’s Christmas release, ``Patch Adams″ with Robin Williams has received strong buzz, but opens on a crowded movie weekend full of Oscar contenders.

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