A deal is all but done for retired U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey to become Hollywood's top lobbyist.
Kerrey, a former Nebraska governor who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic presidential nod in 1992, will earn a $1.2 million salary as CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the Washington D.C.-based arm of the major Hollywood studios.
The unanswered question is when he will officially take over. "I do think it's a done deal," a Washington insider with strong ties to Hollywood said Thursday. "It's just a question of picking a starting date."
Kerrey, who turns 67 next month, has insisted that he stay on as president of New York's the New School until a replacement is found.
"He is not a guy who is going to walk away from a commitment, and he has a commitment to wind down at the New School," an industry insider said. "He's going to do that, and those at the MPAA respect that."
They also have the luxury of having interim CEO Bob Pisano under contract for some time, even after Kerrey comes on board. Pisano most recently took a high-profile role in leading the coalition that killed the notion of creating a commodities market based on movie box office sales.
Kerrey, a decorated Vietnam veteran, is remembered in Hollywood from his days as a Democratic senator from Nebraska, from 1989 to 2001. He supported free trade, smaller government and an aggressive foreign policy.
A former studio boss said there are plenty of people at the MPAA, including Pisano, with industry knowledge, so that isn't what the studios want.
"You're looking for someone who can represent the film industry in Congress, and that is never an easy job," the executive said. "The fact that they are waiting (for Kerrey) probably means they don't have a ton of candidates they felt could do the job the same way."
A Washington veteran with connections to Hollywood praised Kerrey as someone who can handle what has become an ever tougher, more complex job of reconciling the needs of MPAA members, bringing together an industry and dealing with everyone from politicians to the public.
"The MPAA is largely an anti-piracy organization now," he said. "One great asset Bob will bring to this job is a fresh set of eyes to then become a fresh voice. For a lot of people, he can step up and say: 'Holy cow! I don't think anybody realizes what's going on here. This is a real problem. It's cutting into real sales, real productions, and we have got to take it seriously.' He's a powerful and effective speaker and presence who can make a real impact on the public discourse on why people should care about piracy."
On Thursday, Pisano declined to discuss Kerrey or his own future role other than to say he would be happy to serve whomever takes the top job. He did say that, based on his experiences, the next MPAA leader will need to build similar coalitions of studios, labor, exhibition and independents to cope with the issues ahead, in particular the global fight against pirating intellectual property.
"The issues today are more complex than ever," Pisano said, "and we need to join together with all the elements of the industry, especially the people who create the product."
Although Kerrey's contract at the New School, where he has been president since 2001, isn't actually up until spring, it appears he has indicated that he can leave well before that. Kerrey said last week on the Don Imus radio show that he expects to leave the school in the fall.
Kerrey has strong support from the university's board and has grown the enrollment and endowment significantly on his watch, but some faculty members and students will be happy to see him go. After Kerrey in March announced his plan to step down, the university's student senate sent out a mass e-mail saying there was "controversy about President Kerrey's statements that he was not leaving because of the immense protests against him by the faculty and students."
During Kerrey's tenure, there have been multiple protests over his leadership style, a three-day campus demonstration that closed the school and tension as five provosts have come and gone.
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