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The ‘Land of the Lost’ Effect: Studios in Trouble, Layoffs at Disney & Universal

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With an economic recession in full swing and growing fears that Redbox will continue to siphon profits from the home video market, the studios just can’t seem to catch a break. And in recent weeks, The Weinstein Company isn’t the only Hollywood studio that’s been making headlines for its financial woes and executive layoffs. MGM, of which United Artists is a subsidiary, has had to scramble to pay for Peter Jackson‘s long-delayed adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien‘s The Hobbit, while at the same time paying off a staggering $3.7 billion debt. Recent releases like the misguided Fame remake have only added to its problems. More recently, both Disney and Universal have caused a commotion by replacing their top executives following a brutal year at the box office.

You could call it the Land of the Lost effect, for the would-be summer blockbuster starring Will Ferrell that was a financial bomb for Universal, costing over $100M and grossing an astronomically low $62M worldwide. Add to the plate a release schedule that offered virtually no good news from the likes of Judd Apatow‘s Funny People and the Jennifer Aniston-starring rom-com, Love Happens, and you can see the obvious reasons behind Universal’s decision to fire chairmen Marc Schmuger and David Linde, who, just this past January, signed a long term contract that was originally supposed to last until 2013. They have been replaced with the studio’s marketing and production chiefs, Adam Fogelson and Donna Langley.

land_of_the_lost_ver3_xlgAnd so it goes when you’re an executive at a major Hollywood studio, your job is only as safe as your last hit. Just ask Dick Cook, the recently replaced head of Walt Disney Studios, who, in his official statement of resignation, said:

I am stepping down from my role as chairman of The Walt Disney Studios, effective immediately. I have loved every minute of my 38 years that I have worked at Disney… from the beginning as a ride operator on Disneyland’s steam train and monorail to my position as chairman of The Walt Disney Studios.

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Cook probably would have kept his job had it not been for disappointments ranging from Bolt, Adam Sandler‘s Bedtime Stories, Confessions of a Shopaholic and its most recent non-performer, the Bruce Willis robot thriller Surrogates. Cook will be replaced by Rich Ross, who previously worked for The Disney Channel.

During his tenure, he oversaw the phenomenal success of shows like Hannah Montana and the High School Musical franchise. Disney, a company that can still rely on output from Pixar (whose most recent outing, Up, was their highest grossing film to date) and the recently acquired Marvel Entertainment, to generate surefire hits, should weather the shake-up just fine.

If there’s any lesson for the studios in all of this, it’s that they may need to rethink their game plan concerning what kind of movies audiences are interested in seeing. In her New York Times review of Land of the LostManohla Dargis commented that

the only marginally interesting, if unsurprising, thing about Land of the Lost is that a lot of money has been spent on yet another cultural throwaway.

2010 may become the year the studios were forced to wise-up.

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