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TV retrenching leaves vet behind.

HOLLYWOOD A vacationing Gary Marenzi was on his way to the beach near Lucca, Italy with his three kids in tow when he got the cell phone call: His immediate boss at Paramount, Joel Berman, rang to tell him that he really didn't have to hurry back to L.A. because, well, you can guess the rest.

That's how Viacom's decision, four years in the making, to combine its Paramount and CBS program catalogs, overseas sales operations and management oversight under one person was communicated to the international TV prexy two weeks ago.

Viacom co-prexy/co-COO Leslie Moonves, who's only been in his new position for two months, made the anointing of the CBS international prexy Armando Nunez as the foreign sales topper his first significant management team move.

Nunez will now oversee the largest catalog of movie and TV content in the world--bigger than Warners Bros., bigger than the combined NBC-Universal vault.

Some say the writing was on the wall once Paramount Entertainment chair Jonathan Dolgen ankled in June and Moonves subsumed all TV distribution operations into his portfolio. (Marenzi was perceived as Dolgen's guy.)

A move of some kind was inevitable: Scuttlebutt as to who would accede to the top job has been ongoing since Viacom acquired CBS and King World in 2000. Marenzi joined Paramount Intl TV as prexy seven years ago after top gigs at MGM TV and before that at UIP; Nunez worked at New World, Viacom and Universal before taking the helm at CBS Intl. in 2000.

Most recently, Nunez had been selling rights abroad to shows like "America's Top Model," "Everybody Loves Raymond" and the "Survivor" franchise. Marenzi oversaw the huge output deals for Par movies and TV series around the world. Both are well-liked by foreign customers.

In a good year Marenzi's larger unit might bring in $500 million (plus another $200 million from the foreign pay TV unit under Jack Waterman), while the smaller CBS unit might ratchet up $100 million a year in foreign revenues.

But judging how effective any particular American exec at the helm of an international division is at bringing in the bacon has always been hard to do.

Back in 1997 the Hollywood majors all patted themselves on the back when they tied up amazingly lucrative output deals in most of western Europe. Several years later, a number of those deals came apart and had to be re-negotiated downwards.

Most crucially, their German customer, Leo Kirch, went belly up and the repercussions are still being felt. (Just last week U and Kirch settled a 4-year-old lawsuit, which will see that studio collect $86 million, perhaps 15 cents on the dollar, of what it was owed. Par settled a similar suit last year.)

"Most folks think the top international execs spend their time wining and dining customers in exotic foreign locales," says one sales exec. "They still do that, but much more energy is spent haggling with lawyers, renegotiating deals that have gone sour and trying to explain to bosses and producers why such-and-such a show didn't sell well abroad."

Marenzi joined Par just in time to have to deal with the debacle in Germany, which left each of the majors with uncollected bills. Marenzi also had to futz with the integration of the Spelling and Rysher libraries and handle the personnel issues connected to these takeovers; for his part, Nunez has managed to work well with King World's larger-than-life boss Roger King and get the Eye involved in the global format biz.

Since the international biz purportedly pivots on the people skills of the program sellers, it's fair to ask how rivals Marenzi and Nunez stacked up in that department.

Both pretty well, actually.

Marenzi, 48, is gregarious, laid back but also deliberate, while Nunez, 42, is more overtly enthusiastic and upbeat.

Can we all just get along?

How the affable Nunez will interface with the gruff pay TV chieftain Waterman--who used to report to the formidable Dolgen but will now report to Nunez--remains to be seen. Both Marenzi and Waterman have about a year left on their Par contracts.

But the big question transcends the personalities at the top: With six Hollywood comgloms now distributing 80% of all U.S. product--and doing so with fewer staff--just how often will producers come to the conclusion that their particular show or movie is getting short-shrifted?
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Title Annotation:Voiceover
Author:Guider, Elizabeth
Publication:Variety
Date:Aug 23, 2004
Words:728
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