Already a member? Log In

The Case for Brian Robbins at Paramount

Brian Robbins at the Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards
Photo by Amy Sussman/KCA2021/Getty Images for Nickelodeon
Matthew Belloni
September 23, 2021

Brian Robbins, the newly installed C.E.O. of Paramount Pictures, hasn’t been thrilled by the media coverage of his ascension. Last week, The New York Times noted that the ascension of the former Nickelodeon chief to run the storied studio was perceived as an “affront” to film industry purists. Critical columns in this space and in THR focused on the ham-fisted manner in which ViacomCBS handled the replacement of the statesman-like Jim Gianopulos, and the likelihood that Robbins represents the studio’s significantly reduced theatrical film ambitions. The Ankler newsletter has been referring to Robbins simply as “Norbit,” the lame 2007 comedy that he directed, which derailed Eddie Murphy’s Oscar campaign for Dreamgirls—the kind of movie that Paramount used to release, critics say.    

In meetings with his staff and chats with friends, Robbins has openly complained about the coverage, according to three sources that I talked to this week. That’s fine, I’ve never met a studio chief who loves their press. And ViacomCBS has been scrambling behind the scenes to improve the optics. Chris Petrikin, Paramount’s communications chief and a longtime Gianopulos ally, was abruptly ousted without explanation. C.E.O. Bob Bakish made sure to insist at the Goldman Sachs conference this week that the plan for Paramount includes “maintaining its extraordinary theatrical legacy, as exemplified by the fantastic slate we have coming in 2022.” Meanwhile, the company’s P.R. team has slipped reporters a list of Robbins’ “strong industry relationships”—powerful people who, in the time-honored tradition of Hollywood back-scratching, are happy to say nice things about him in the media. Congrats to those who made the list: UTA’s Jeremy Zimmer (Robbins’ former agent); Jeffrey Katzenberg (who once bought Robbins’ digital startup, Awesomeness, for $33 million and currently shares a luxury box with him at L.A.’s SoFi Stadium); the former Viacom executive Van Toffler; producers Lorenzo Di Bonaventura, Shawn Levy, Neal Moritz and Will Packer, etc. etc.