Casting the MPAA lead

Much has changed since Jack Valenti, left, led the MPAA. Could Chris Dodd take the post?
Much has changed since Jack Valenti, left, led the MPAA. Could Chris Dodd take the post? (Valenti By Kirkland)
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Thursday, February 24, 2011

The latest front-runner for head of the Motion Picture Association of America: former senator Chris Dodd. His name has been batted around for the past couple of months, another of the ex-lawmakers this close to supposedly getting the job - until they weren't.

You'd think prospective candidates would be knocking down the door: It comes with bipartisan support (hey, everyone loves movies), great salary ($1.5 million a year) and a chance to hang out with Hollywood's A-list. But the office has been empty for almost a year, and finding just the right person has proved more difficult than anyone guessed.

The MPAA existed before Jack Valenti took over in 1966, but he transformed it into D.C.'s most glamorous lobbying shop and ruled for 38 years. Dan Glickman, ex-rep and part of the Clinton Cabinet, then took the reins but left a year ago. Last summer, ex-senator Bob Kerrey was the "it" boy until talks broke down; former representative Tom Davis was reportedly in the mix in the fall. Now Dodd, the Connecticut Democrat who retired this year after 30 years in the Senate, is (allegedly) mere days from formally accepting the job. Or not.

What's going on? Todd Flournoy, a former MPAA government affairs executive and current entertainment lobbyist, said the process has been slowed by the fact that the major studios that make up the association are now each part of huge corporate entities (Disney, News Corp.) with their own distinct agendas and even more execs to weigh in on a decision. Which means the CEOs of the top six studios - the guys who actually do the hiring for the Washington job - now have bosses of their own, and that dynamic may have scared off some potential hires as well. "The more savvy candidates realize that it's a fairly complicated dance," Flournoy said. "They're beholden to a much more complicated set of pulls and pushes."

Another factor: the growing voices of independent filmmakers, who resent what they call unfair influence of big Hollywood studios on the issues of intellectual property rights, trade and the MPAA's rating board. "It's a very defective system that's biased against independent and foreign films," said director Kirby Dick, who made "This Film Is Not Yet Rated." "There's a lot of money at stake" for the studios.

"The organization is more complicated than it used to be under Jack," Glickman told us Wednesday. "It's not the easiest job in the world, but it's a great job."

Dodd, who has refused to discuss the MPAA position with media outlets, could not be reached for comment; reps for the MPAA board did not respond to our calls.

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