Famous Players Film Company
Paramount is the fifth oldest surviving film studio in the world after the French studios Gaumont Film Company (1895) and Pathé (1896), followed by the Nordisk Film company (1906), and Universal Studios (1912). It is the last major film studio still headquartered in the Hollywood district of Los Angeles.
Paramount Pictures dates its existence from the 1912 founding date of the Famous Players Film Company. Hungarian-born founder Adolph Zukor, who had been an early investor in nickelodeons, saw that movies appealed mainly to working-class immigrants. With partners Daniel Frohman and Charles Frohman he planned to offer feature-length films that would appeal to the middle class by featuring the leading theatrical players of the time (leading to the slogan "Famous Players in Famous Plays"). By mid-1913, Famous Players had completed five films, and Zukor was on his way to success. Its first film was Les Amours de la reine Élisabeth, which starred Sarah Bernhardt.
That same year, another aspiring producer, Jesse L. Lasky, opened his Lasky Feature Play Company with money borrowed from his brother-in-law, Samuel Goldfish, later known as Samuel Goldwyn. The Lasky company hired as their first employee a stage director with virtually no film experience, Cecil B. DeMille, who would find a suitable site in Hollywood, near Los Angeles, for his first feature film, The Squaw Man.
Starting in 1914, both Lasky and Famous Players released their films through a start-up company, Paramount Pictures Corporation, organized early that year by a Utah theatre owner, W. W. Hodkinson, who had bought and merged several smaller firms. Hodkinson and actor, director, producer Hobart Bosworth had started production of a series of Jack London movies. Paramount was the first successful nationwide distributor; until this time, films were sold on a statewide or regional basis which had proved costly to film producers. Also, Famous Players and Lasky were privately owned while Paramount was a corporation.
The logo, with Spanish captions: Distribuida Pela Paramount
In 1916, Zukor maneuvered a three-way merger of his Famous Players, the Lasky Company, and Paramount. Zukor and Lasky bought Hodkinson out of Paramount, and merged the three companies into one. The new company Lasky and Zukor founded, Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, grew quickly, with Lasky and his partners Goldwyn and DeMille running the production side, Hiram Abrams in charge of distribution, and Zukor making great plans. With only the exhibitor-owned First National as a rival, Famous Players-Lasky and its "Paramount Pictures" soon dominated the business.
Lasky's original studio (a.k.a. "The Barn") as it appeared in the mid 1920s. The Taft building, built in 1923, is visible in the background.
Because Zukor believed in stars, he signed and developed many of the leading early stars, including Mary Pickford, Marguerite Clark, Pauline Frederick, Douglas Fairbanks, Gloria Swanson, Rudolph Valentino, and Wallace Reid. With so many important players, Paramount was able to introduce "block booking", which meant that an exhibitor who wanted a particular star's films had to buy a year's worth of other Paramount productions. It was this system that gave Paramount a leading position in the 1920s and 1930s, but which led the government to pursue it on antitrust grounds for more than twenty years.
The driving force behind Paramount's rise was Zukor. Through the teens and twenties, he built the Publix Theatres Corporation, a chain of nearly 2,000 screens, ran two production studios (in Astoria, New York, now the Kaufman Astoria Studios, and Hollywood, California), and became an early investor in radio, taking a 50% interest in the new Columbia Broadcasting System in 1928 (selling it within a few years; this would not be the last time Paramount and CBS crossed paths).
In 1926, Zukor hired independent producer B. P. Schulberg, an unerring eye for new talent, to run the new West Coast operations. They purchased the Robert Brunton Studios, a 26-acre facility at 5451 Marathon Street for US$1 million. In 1927, Famous Players-Lasky took the name Paramount Famous Lasky Corporation. Three years later, because of the importance of the Publix Theatres, it became Paramount Publix Corporation.
In 1928, Paramount began releasing Inkwell Imps, animated cartoons produced by Max and Dave Fleischer's Fleischer Studios in New York City. The Fleischers, veterans in the animation industry, were among the few animation producers capable of challenging the prominence of Walt Disney. The Paramount newsreel series Paramount News ran from 1927 to 1957. Paramount was also one of the first Hollywood studios to release what were known at that time as "talkies", and in 1929, released their first musical, Innocents of Paris. Richard A. Whiting and Leo Robin composed the score for the film; Maurice Chevalier starred and sung the most famous song from the film, "Louise".
Publix, Balaban and Katz, Loew's competition and wonder theaters
By acquiring the successful Balaban & Katz chain in 1926, Zukor gained the services of Barney Balaban (who would eventually become Paramount's president in 1936), his brother A. J. Balaban (who would eventually supervise all stage production nationwide and produce talkie shorts), and their partner Sam Katz (who would run the Paramount-Publix theatre chain in New York City from the thirty-five-story Paramount Theatre Building on Times Square).
Balaban and Katz had developed the Wonder Theater concept, first publicized around 1918 in Chicago. The Chicago Theater was created as a very ornate theater and advertised as a "wonder theater." When Publix acquired Balaban, they embarked on a project to expand the wonder theaters, and starting building in New York in 1927. While Balaban and Public were dominant in Chicago, Loew's was the big player in New York, and did not want the Publix theaters to overshadow theirs. The two companies brokered a non-competition deal for New York and Chicago, and Loew's took over the New York area projects, developing five wonder theaters. Publix continued Balaban's wonder theater development in its home area.
Eventually, Zukor shed most of his early partners; the Frohman brothers, Hodkinson and Goldwyn were out by 1917 while Lasky hung on until 1932, when, blamed for the near-collapse of Paramount in the Depression years, he too was tossed out. Zukor's over-expansion and use of overvalued Paramount stock for purchases led the company into receivership in 1933. A bank-mandated reorganization team, led by John Hertz and Otto Kahn kept the company intact, and, miraculously, Zukor was kept on. In 1935, Paramount-Publix went bankrupt. In June 1935 John E. Otterson and in 1936 Barney Balaban became president, and Zukor was bumped up to chairman of the board. In this role, Zukor reorganized the company as Paramount Pictures, Inc. and was able to successfully bring the studio out of bankruptcy.
As always, Paramount films continued to emphasize stars; in the 1920s there were Swanson, Valentino, and Clara Bow. By the 1930s, talkies brought in a range of powerful new draws: Miriam Hopkins, Marlene Dietrich, Mae West, W.C. Fields, Jeanette MacDonald, Claudette Colbert, the Marx Brothers (whose first two films were shot at Paramount's Astoria, New York, studio), Dorothy Lamour, Carole Lombard, Bing Crosby, band leader Shep Fields, famous Argentine tango singer Carlos Gardel, and Gary Cooper among them. In this period Paramount can truly be described as a movie factory, turning out sixty to seventy pictures a year. Such were the benefits of having a huge theater chain to fill, and of block booking to persuade other chains to go along. In 1933, Mae West would also add greatly to Paramount's success with her suggestive movies She Done Him Wrong and I'm No Angel. However, the sex appeal West gave in these movies would also lead to the enforcement of the Production Code, as the newly formed organization the Catholic Legion of Decency threatened a boycott if it was not enforced.
Paramount cartoons produced by Fleischer Studios continued to be successful, with characters such as Betty Boop and Popeye the Sailor becoming widely successful. One Fleischer series, Screen Songs, featured live-action music stars under contract to Paramount hosting sing-alongs of popular songs. The animation studio would rebound with Popeye, and in 1935, polls showed that Popeye was even more popular than Mickey Mouse. After an unsuccessful expansion into feature films, as well as the fact that Max and Dave Fleischer were no longer speaking to one another, Fleischer Studios was acquired by Paramount, which renamed the operation Famous Studios. That incarnation of the animation studio continued cartoon production until 1967, but has been historically dismissed as having largely failed to maintain the artistic acclaim the Fleischer brothers achieved under their management.
The original Paramount logo seen on its 1930s films and Popeye
1941–50: United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc.
In 1940, Paramount agreed to a government-instituted consent decree: block booking and "pre-selling" (the practice of collecting up-front money for films not yet in production) would end. Immediately, Paramount cut back on production, from 71 films to a more modest 19 annually in the war years. Still, with more new stars like Bob Hope, Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, Paulette Goddard, and Betty Hutton, and with war-time attendance at astronomical numbers, Paramount and the other integrated studio-theatre combines made more money than ever. At this, the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department decided to reopen their case against the five integrated studios. Paramount also had a monopoly over Detroit movie theaters through subsidiary company United Detroit Theaters. This led to the Supreme Court decision United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. (1948) holding that movie studios could not also own movie theater chains. This decision broke up Adolph Zukor's creation, with the theater chain being split into a new company, United Paramount Theaters, and effectively brought an end to the classic Hollywood studio system.
1951–66: Split and after
With the separation of production and exhibition forced by the U.S. Supreme Court, Paramount Pictures Inc. was split in two. Paramount Pictures Corporation was formed to be the production distribution company, with the 1,500-screen theater chain handed to the new United Paramount Theaters on December 31, 1949. Leonard Goldenson, who had headed the chain since 1938, remained as the new company's president. The Balaban and Katz theatre division was spun off with UPT; its trademark eventually became the property of the Balaban and Katz Historical Foundation. The Foundation has recently acquired ownership of the Famous Players Trademark. Cash-rich and controlling prime downtown real estate, Goldenson began looking for investments. Barred from film-making by prior anti-trust rulings, he acquired the struggling ABC television network in February 1953, leading it first to financial health, and eventually, in the mid-1970s, to first place in the national Nielsen ratings, before selling out to Capital Cities in 1985 (Capital Cities would eventually sell out, in turn, to The Walt Disney Company in 1996). United Paramount Theaters was renamed ABC Theaters in 1965 and was sold to businessman Henry Plitt in 1974. The movie theater chain was renamed Plitt Theaters. In 1985, Cineplex Odeon Corporation merged with Plitt. In later years, Paramount's TV division would develop a strong relationship with ABC, providing many hit series to the network.
The DuMont Network
Paramount Pictures had been an early backer of television, launching experimental stations in 1939 in Los Angeles and Chicago. The Los Angeles station eventually became KTLA, the first commercial station on the West Coast. The Chicago station got a commercial license as WBKB in 1943, but was sold to UPT along with Balaban & Katz in 1948 and was eventually resold to CBS as WBBM-TV.
In 1938, Paramount bought a stake in television manufacturer DuMont Laboratories. Through this stake, it became a minority owner of the DuMont Television Network. Also Paramount launched its own network, Paramount Television Network, in 1948 through its television unit, Television Productions, Inc.
Paramount management planned to acquire additional owned-and-operated stations ("O&Os"); the company applied to the FCC for additional stations in San Francisco, Detroit, and Boston. The FCC, however, denied Paramount's applications. A few years earlier, the federal regulator had placed a five-station cap on all television networks: no network was allowed to own more than five VHF television stations. Paramount was hampered by its minority stake in the DuMont Television Network. Although both DuMont and Paramount executives stated that the companies were separate, the FCC ruled that Paramount's partial ownership of DuMont meant that DuMont and Paramount were in theory branches of the same company. Since DuMont owned three television stations and Paramount owned two, the federal agency ruled neither network could acquire additional television stations. The FCC requested that Paramount relinquish its stake in DuMont, but Paramount refused. According to television historian William Boddy, "Paramount's checkered anti-trust history" helped convince the FCC that Paramount controlled DuMont. Both DuMont and Paramount Television Network suffered as a result, with neither company able to acquire five O&Os. Meanwhile, CBS, ABC, and NBC had each acquired the maximum of five stations by the mid-1950s.
When ABC accepted a merger offer from UPT in 1953, DuMont quickly realized that ABC now had more resources than it could possibly hope to match. It quickly reached an agreement in principle to merge with ABC. However, Paramount vetoed the offer due to antitrust concerns. For all intents and purposes, this was the end of DuMont, though it lingered on until 1956.
In 1951, Paramount bought a stake in International Telemeter, an experimental pay TV service which operated with a coin inserted into a box. The service began operating in Palm Springs, California on November 27, 1953, but due to pressure from the FCC, the service ended on May 15, 1954.
With the loss of the theater chain, Paramount Pictures went into a decline, cutting studio-backed production, releasing its contract players, and making production deals with independents. By the mid-1950s, all the great names were gone; only Cecil B. DeMille, associated with Paramount since 1913, kept making pictures in the grand old style. Despite Paramount's losses, DeMille would, however, give the studio some relief and create his most successful film at Paramount, a 1956 remake of his 1923 film The Ten Commandments. DeMille died in 1959. Like some other studios, Paramount saw little value in its film library, and sold 764 of its pre-1948 films to MCA Inc./EMKA, Ltd. (known today as Universal Television) in February 1958.
1966–70: Early Gulf+Western era
Paramount's logo from 1953–1975. The Gulf+Western
byline was introduced following the company's purchase of Paramount. The variant shown here was used in the first three Indiana Jones
films, the first of which was released in 1981.
By the early 1960s, Paramount's future was doubtful. The high-risk movie business was wobbly; the theater chain was long gone; investments in DuMont and in early pay-television came to nothing; and the Golden Age of Hollywood had just ended, even the flagship Paramount building in Times Square was sold to raise cash, as was KTLA (sold to Gene Autry in 1964 for a then-phenomenal $12.5 million). Their only remaining successful property at that point was Dot Records, which Paramount had acquired in 1957, and even its profits started declining by the middle of the 1960s. Founding father Adolph Zukor (born in 1873) was still chairman emeritus; he referred to chairman Barney Balaban (born 1888) as "the boy." Such aged leadership was incapable of keeping up with the changing times, and in 1966, a sinking Paramount was sold to Charles Bluhdorn's industrial conglomerate, Gulf + Western Industries Corporation. Bluhdorn immediately put his stamp on the studio, installing a virtually unknown producer named Robert Evans as head of production. Despite some rough times, Evans held the job for eight years, restoring Paramount's reputation for commercial success with The Odd Couple, Rosemary's Baby, Love Story, The Godfather, Chinatown, and 3 Days of the Condor.
Gulf + Western Industries also bought the neighboring Desilu television studio (once the lot of RKO Pictures) from Lucille Ball in 1967. Using some of Desilu's established shows such as Star Trek, Mission: Impossible, and Mannix as a foot in the door at the networks, the newly reincorporated Paramount Television eventually became known as a specialist in half-hour situation comedies.
In 1968, Paramount formed Films Distributing Corp to distribute sensitive film product, including Sin With a Stranger, which was one of the first films to receive an X rating in the United States when the MPAA introduced their new rating system.
1971–80: CIC formation and high-concept era
In 1970, Paramount teamed with Universal Studios to form Cinema International Corporation, a new company that would distribute films by the two studios outside the United States. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer would become a partner in the mid-1970s. Both Paramount and CIC entered the video market with Paramount Home Video (now Paramount Home Entertainment) and CIC Video, respectively.
Robert Evans abandoned his position as head of production in 1974; his successor, Richard Sylbert, proved to be too literary and too tasteful for Gulf + Western's Bluhdorn. By 1976, a new, television-trained team was in place headed by Barry Diller and his "Killer-Dillers", as they were called by admirers or "Dillettes" as they were called by detractors. These associates, made up of Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Dawn Steel and Don Simpson would each go on and head up major movie studios of their own later in their careers.
Paramount's print logo with the Viacom byline. This logo has been used since 1968, with minor variations, all of which reflected corporate changes. The new byline was introduced in 2010.
The Paramount specialty was now simpler. "High concept" pictures such as Saturday Night Fever and Grease hit big, hit hard and hit fast all over the world, and Diller's television background led him to propose one of his longest-standing ideas to the board: Paramount Television Service, a fourth commercial network. Paramount Pictures purchased the Hughes Television Network (HTN) including its satellite time in planning for PTVS in 1976. Paramount sold HTN to Madison Square Garden in 1979. But Diller believed strongly in the concept, and so took his fourth-network idea with him when he moved to 20th Century Fox in 1984, where Fox's then freshly installed proprietor, Rupert Murdoch was a more interested listener.
However, the television division would be playing catch-up for over a decade after Diller's departure in 1984 before launching its own television network – UPN – in 1995. Lasting eleven years before being merged with The WB network to become The CW in 2006, UPN would feature many of the shows it originally produced for other networks, and would take numerous gambles on series such as Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise that would have otherwise either gone direct-to-cable or become first-run syndication to independent stations across the country (as Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: The Next Generation were).
Paramount Pictures was not connected to either Paramount Records (1910s-1935) or ABC-Paramount Records (1955–66) until it purchased the rights to use the name (but not the latter's catalog) in the late 1960s. The Paramount name was used for soundtrack albums and some pop re-issues from the Dot Records catalog which Paramount had acquired in 1957. By 1970, Dot had become an all-country label and in 1974, Paramount sold all of its record holdings to ABC Records, which in turn was sold to MCA (now Universal Music Group) in 1979.
1980–94: Continual success
Paramount's successful run of pictures extended into the 1980s and 1990s, generating hits like Airplane!, American Gigolo, Ordinary People, An Officer and a Gentleman, Flashdance, Terms of Endearment, , Pretty in Pink, Top Gun, Crocodile Dundee, Fatal Attraction, Ghost, the Friday the 13th slasher series, as well as teaming up with Lucasfilm to create the Indiana Jones franchise. Other examples are the Star Trek film series and a string of films starring comedian Eddie Murphy like Trading Places, Coming to America and Beverly Hills Cop and its sequels. While the emphasis was decidedly on the commercial, there were occasional less commercial but more artistic and intellectual efforts like I'm Dancing as Fast as I Can, Atlantic City, Reds, Witness, Children of a Lesser God and The Accused. During this period, responsibility for running the studio passed from Eisner and Katzenberg to Frank Mancuso, Sr. (1984) and Ned Tanen (1984) to Stanley R. Jaffe (1991) and Sherry Lansing (1992). More so than most, Paramount's slate of films included many remakes and television spin-offs; while sometimes commercially successful, there have been few compelling films of the kind that once made Paramount the industry leader.
On August 25, 1983, Paramount Studios caught fire. Two or three sound stages and four outdoor sets were destroyed.
When Charles Bluhdorn died unexpectedly, his successor Martin Davis dumped all of G+W's industrial, mining, and sugar-growing subsidiaries and refocused the company, renaming it Paramount Communications in 1989. With the influx of cash from the sale of G+W's industrial properties in the mid-1980s, Paramount bought a string of television stations and KECO Entertainment's theme park operations, renaming them Paramount Parks. These parks included Paramount's Great America, Paramount Canada's Wonderland, Paramount's Carowinds, Paramount's Kings Dominion, and Paramount's Kings Island.
In 1993, Sumner Redstone's entertainment conglomerate Viacom made a bid for a merger with Paramount Communications; this quickly escalated into a bidding war with Barry Diller's QVC. But Viacom prevailed, ultimately paying $10 billion for the Paramount holdings. Viacom and Paramount had planned to merge as early as 1989.
Paramount is the last major film studio located in Hollywood proper. When Paramount moved to its present home in 1927, it was in the heart of the film community. Since then, former next-door neighbor RKO closed up shop in 1957 (Paramount ultimately absorbed their former lot); Warner Bros. (whose old Sunset Boulevard studio was sold to Paramount in 1949 as a home for KTLA) moved to Burbank in 1930; Columbia joined Warners in Burbank in 1973 then moved again to Culver City in 1989; and the Pickford-Fairbanks-Goldwyn-United Artists lot, after a lively history, has been turned into a post-production and music-scoring facility for Warners, known simply as "The Lot". For a time the semi-industrial neighborhood around Paramount was in decline, but has now come back. The recently refurbished studio has come to symbolize Hollywood for many visitors, and its studio tour is a popular attraction.
1989–94 Paramount Communications
In 1983 Gulf and Western began a restructuring process that would transform the corporation from a bloated conglomerate consisting of subsidiaries from unrelated industries to a more focused entertainment and publishing company. The idea was to aid financial markets in measuring the company's success, which, in turn, would help place better value on its shares. Though its Paramount division did very well in recent years, Gulf and Western's success as a whole was translating poorly with investors. This process eventually led Davis to divest many of the company's subsidiaries. Its sugar plantations in Florida and the Dominican Republic were sold in 1985; the consumer and industrial products branch was sold off that same year. In 1989, Davis renamed the company Paramount Communications Incorporated after its primary asset, Paramount Pictures. In addition to the Paramount film, television, home video, and music publishing divisions, the company continued to own the Madison Square Garden properties (which also included MSG Network), a 50% stake in USA Networks (the other 50% was owned by MCA/Universal Studios) and Simon & Schuster, Prentice Hall, Pocket Books, Allyn & Bacon, Cineamerica (a joint venture with Warner Communications), and Canadian cinema chain Famous Players Theatres.
That same year, the company launched a $12.2 billion hostile bid to acquire Time Inc. in an attempt to end a stock-swap merger deal between Time and Warner Communications, which also renamed itself after a movie studio it owned upon selling off its non-entertainment assets. (The original name of Warner Communications was Kinney National Company.) This caused Time to raise its bid for Warner to $14.9 Billion in cash and stock. Gulf and Western responded by filing a lawsuit in a Delaware court to block the Time-Warner merger. The court ruled twice in favor of Time, forcing Gulf and Western to drop both the Time acquisition and the lawsuit, and allowing the formation of Time Warner.
Paramount used cash acquired from the sale of Gulf and Western's non-entertainment properties to take over the TVX Broadcast Group chain of television stations (which at that point consisted mainly of large-market stations which TVX had bought from Taft Broadcasting, plus two mid-market stations which TVX owned prior to the Taft purchase), and the KECO Entertainment chain of theme parks from Taft successor Great American Broadcasting. Both of these companies had their names changed to reflect new ownership: TVX became known as the Paramount Stations Group, while KECO was renamed to Paramount Parks.
Paramount Television launched Wilshire Court Productions in conjunction with USA Networks, before the latter was renamed NBCUniversal Cable, in 1989. Wilshire Court Productions (named for a side street in Los Angeles) produced made-for-television movies that aired on USA, and later for other networks. USA Networks launched a second channel, the Sci-Fi Channel (now known as Syfy), in 1992. As its name implied, it focused on films and television series within the science fiction genre. Much of the initial programming was owned either by Paramount or Universal. Paramount bought one more television station in 1993: Cox Enterprises' WKBD-TV in Detroit, Michigan, at the time an affiliate of the Fox Broadcasting Company.
1994–2005: Dolgen/Lansing and "old" Viacom era
On July 7, 1994 Paramount Communications Inc. was sold to Viacom following the purchase of 50.1% of Paramount's shares for $9.75 billion. At the time, Paramount's holdings included Paramount Pictures, Madison Square Garden, the New York Rangers, the New York Knicks, and the Simon & Schuster publishing house. The deal had been planned as early as 1989, when the company was still known as Gulf and Western. Though Davis was named a member of the board of National Amusements, which controlled Viacom, he ceased to manage the company.
Under Viacom, the Paramount Stations Group continued to build with more station acquisitions, eventually leading to Viacom's acquisition of its former parent, the CBS network, in 1999. Around the same time, Viacom bought out Spelling Entertainment, incorporating its library into that of Paramount itself.
Viacom split into two companies in 2006, one retaining the Viacom name (which continues to own Paramount Pictures), while another was named CBS Corporation (which now controls Paramount Television Group, which was renamed CBS Paramount Television, now known as CBS Television Studios and worldwide distribution unit is now CBS Television Distribution and CBS Studios International, in 2006, Simon & Schuster [except for Prentice Hall and other educational units, which Viacom sold to Pearson PLC in 1998, and what's left of the original Paramount Stations Group, now known as CBS Television Stations). National Amusements retains majority control of the two.
Together, these two companies own many of the former media assets of Gulf and Western and its Paramount successor today. Meanwhile, the Madison Square Garden properties (including the Knicks and Rangers) were sold to Cablevision not long after the Viacom takeover. Cablevision owned the MSG properties until 2010, when they were spun off as their own company. CBS retained ownership of the Paramount Parks chain for a few months after becoming part of the new CBS Corporation, but sold the parks to Cedar Fair in the summer of 2006, and thus National Amusements got out of the theme park ownership business entirely. Over the next few years, Cedar Fair purged references to Viacom-owned properties from the former Paramount Parks, a task completed in 2010. Viacom also sold its stake in the USA Networks to Universal in 1997, and the channels came under the ownership of Universal's successor, NBCUniversal, which still retained those holdings as of late July 2013.
During this time period, Paramount Pictures went under the guidance of Jonathan Dolgen, chairman and Sherry Lansing, president. During their administration over Paramount, the studio had an extremely successful period of films with two of Paramount's ten highest-grossing films being produced during this period. The most successful of these films, Titanic, a joint partnership with 20th Century Fox, and Lightstorm Entertainment became the highest-grossing film up to that time, grossing over $1.8 billion worldwide. Also during this time, three Paramount Pictures films won the Academy Award for Best Picture; Titanic, Braveheart, and Forrest Gump.
Paramount's most important property, however, was Star Trek. Studio executives had begun to call it "the franchise" in the 1980s due to its reliable revenue, and other studios envied its "untouchable and unduplicatable" success. By 1998 Star Trek TV shows, movies, books, videotapes, and licensing provided so much of the studio's profit that "it is not possible to spend any reasonable amount of time at Paramount and not be aware of [its] presence"; filming for Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine required up to nine of the largest of the studio's 36 sound stages.:49–50,54
In 1995, Viacom and Chris-Craft Industries' United Television launched United Paramount Network (UPN) with Star Trek: Voyager as its flagship series, fulfilling Barry Diller's plan for a Paramount network from 25 years earlier. In 1999, Viacom bought out United Television's interests, and handed responsibility for the start-up network to the newly acquired CBS unit, which Viacom bought in 1999 – an ironic confluence of events as Paramount had once invested in CBS, and Viacom had once been the syndication arm of CBS as well. During this period the studio acquired some 30 TV stations to support the UPN network as well acquiring and merging in the assets of Republic Pictures, Spelling Television and Viacom Television, almost doubling the size of the studio's TV library. The TV division produced the dominant prime time show for the decade in Frasier as well as such long running hits as NCIS and Becker and the dominant prime time magazine show Entertainment Tonight. Paramount also gained the ownership rights to the Rysher library, after Viacom acquired the rights from Cox Enterprises.
During this period, Paramount and its related subsidiaries and affiliates, operating under the name "Viacom Entertainment Group" also included the fourth largest group of theme parks in the United States and Canada which in addition to traditional rides and attractions launched numerous successful location-based entertainment units including a long running "Star Trek" attraction at the Las Vegas Hilton. Famous Music – the company's celebrated music publishing arm almost doubled in size and developed artists including Pink, Bush, Green Day as well as catalog favorites including Duke Ellington and Henry Mancini. The Paramount/Viacom licensing group under the leadership of Tom McGrath created the "Cheers" franchise bars and restaurants and a chain of restaurants borrowing from the studio's Academy Award-winning film Forrest Gump – The Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. Through the combined efforts of Famous Music and the studio over ten "Broadway" musicals were created including Irving Berlin's White Christmas, Footloose, Saturday Night Fever, Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard among others. The Company's international arm, United International Pictures (UIP), was the dominant distributor internationally for ten straight years representing Paramount, Universal and MGM. Simon and Schuster became part of the Viacom Entertainment Group emerging as the US' dominant trade book publisher.
In 2002, Paramount, Buena Vista Distribution, 20th Century Fox, Sony Pictures, Universal Studios, and Warner Bros. formed the Digital Cinema Initiatives. Operating under a waiver from the anti-trust law, the studios combined under the leadership of Paramount Chief Operating Officer Tom McGrath to develop technical standards for the eventual introduction of digital film projection – replacing the now 100-year-old film technology. DCI was created "to establish and document voluntary specifications for an open architecture for digital cinema that ensures a uniform and high level of technical performance, reliability and quality control." McGrath also headed up Paramount's initiative for the creation and launch of the Blu-ray Disc.
2005–2006: Dissolution of the Viacom Entertainment Group and Paramount
In 2005, Viacom announced the spin-off of CBS into a separate public entity. As part of this spin-off, the Entertainment Group that was led by Dolgen, Lansing and McGrath, was dissolved and Paramount broken up into its separate assets. Famous Music, part of the company since its founding by Jesse Lasky, was sold to Sony Music. The UPN network and its TV stations were transferred to CBS. Paramount itself was broken into two parts and the television production and assets were stripped and made part of CBS. The theme parks group was sold to Cedar Fair in 2006 and renamed the parks by taking out the "Paramount's" prefix. Simon and Schuster also became part of CBS. The company's three chains of movie theaters were divested – Famous Players Theaters, the dominant theater circuit in Canada was sold to its competitor Cineplex Odeon. UCI which dominated the international theater markets consisting of 1,300+ screens in 11 countries was sold to buyout firm Terra Firma. Mann Theaters was slowly divested screen by screen with the world-famous "Graumann's Chinese Theater" being sold to a consortium led by Eli Samaha.
The resulting company, approximately 20% of its former size coalesced in 2006 under the leadership of its new CEO, Brad Grey who held the same title as Sherry Lansing despite the much smaller size of the business under his leadership.
2006–present: Paramount today
CBS Corporation/Viacom split
Paramount Pictures' studio lot in Hollywood (Melrose Gate entrance)
Reflecting in part the troubles of the broadcasting business, in 2006 Viacom wrote off over $18 billion from its radio acquisitions and, early that year, announced that it would split itself in two. The split was completed in January 2006.
With the announcement of the split of Viacom, Dolgen and Lansing were replaced by former television executives Brad Grey and Gail Berman. The Viacom Inc. board split the company into CBS Corporation and a separate company under the Viacom name. The board scheduled the division for the first quarter of 2006. Under the plan, CBS Corp. would comprise CBS and UPN networks, Viacom Television Stations Group, Infinity Broadcasting, Viacom Outdoor, Paramount Television, KingWorld, Showtime, Simon and Schuster, Paramount Parks, and CBS News. The revamped Viacom would include "MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, BET and several other cable networks as well as the Paramount movie studio". Paramount's home entertainment unit continues to distribute the Paramount TV library through CBS DVD, as both Viacom and CBS Corporation are controlled by Sumner Redstone's National Amusements.
In 2009, CBS stopped using the Paramount name in its series and changed the name of the production arm to CBS Television Studios, eliminating the Paramount name from television, to distance itself from the latter.
On December 11, 2005, the Paramount Motion Pictures Group announced that it had purchased DreamWorks SKG (which was co-founded by former Paramount executive Jeffrey Katzenberg) in a deal worth $1.6 billion. The announcement was made by Brad Grey, chairman and CEO of Paramount Pictures who noted that enhancing Paramount's pipeline of pictures is a "key strategic objective in restoring Paramount's stature as a leader in filmed entertainment." The agreement does not include DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc., the most profitable part of the company that went public the previous year.
On October 6, 2008, DreamWorks executives announced that they were leaving Paramount and relaunching an independent DreamWorks. The DreamWorks trademarks remained with DreamWorks Animation when that company was spun off before the Paramount purchase, and DreamWorks Animation transferred the license to the name to the new company.
History since 2006
Grey also broke up the famous UIP international distribution company, the most successful international film distributor in history, after a 25-year partnership with Universal Studios and has started up a new international group. As a consequence Paramount fell from No.1 in the international markets to the lowest ranked major studio in 2006 but recovered in 2007.
DreamWorks films, acquired by Paramount but still distributed internationally by Universal, are included in Paramount's market share. Grey also launched a Digital Entertainment division to take advantage of emerging digital distribution technologies. This led to Paramount becoming the second movie studio to sign a deal with Apple Inc. to sell its films through the iTunes Store.
Also, in 2007, Paramount sold another one of its "heritage" units, Famous Music, to Sony/ATV Music Publishing (best known for publishing many songs by The Beatles, and for being co-owned by Michael Jackson), ending a nearly-eight-decade run as a division of Paramount, being the studio's music publishing arm since the period when the entire company went by the name "Famous Players."
In early 2008, Paramount partnered with Los Angeles-based developer FanRocket to make short scenes taken from its film library available to users on Facebook. The application, called VooZoo, allows users to send movie clips to other Facebook users and to post clips on their profile pages. Paramount engineered a similar deal with Makena Technologies to allow users of vMTV and There.com to view and send movie clips.
In March 2010, Paramount founded Insurge Pictures, an independent distributor of "micro budget" films. The distributor planned ten movies with budgets of $100,000 each. The first release was The Devil Inside, a movie with a budget of about US$1 million. In March 2015, following waning box office returns, Paramount shuttered Insurge Pictures and moved its operations to the main studio.
In July 2011, in the wake of critical and box office success of the animated feature, Rango, and the departure of DreamWorks Animation upon completion of their distribution contract in 2012, Paramount announced the formation of a new division, devoted to the creation of animated productions. It marks Paramount's return to having its own animated division for the first time since 1967, when Paramount Cartoon Studios shut down (it was formerly Famous Studios until 1956).
In December 2013, Walt Disney Studios (via its parent company's purchase of Lucasfilm, Ltd. a year earlier) gained Paramount's remaining distribution and marketing rights to future Indiana Jones films after exchanging them for the sequel rights to Gnomeo & Juliet. Paramount will permanently retain the distribution rights to the first four films, and will receive "financial participation" from any additional films.
In February 2016, Viacom CEO and newly appointed chairman Philippe Dauman announced that the conglomerate is in talks to find an investor to purchase a minority stake in Paramount. Sumner Redstone and his daughter Shari are reportedly opposed with the deal. On July 13, 2016, Wanda Group was in talks to acquire a 49% stake of Paramount. The talks with Wanda were dropped. On January 19, 2017, Shanghai Film Group Corp. and Huahua Media said they would finance at least 25% of all Paramount Pictures movies over a three-year period. Shanghai Film Group and Huahua Media, in the deal, would help distribute and market Paramount's features in China. At the time, the Wall Street Journal wrote that "nearly every major Hollywood studio has a co-financing deal with a Chinese company."
On September 29, 2016, National Amusements sent a letter to both CBS Corp. and Viacom, encouraging the two companies to merge back into one company. On December 12, the deal was called off.
On March 27, 2017, Jim Gianopulos was named as a chairman and CEO of Paramount Pictures, replacing Brad Grey.
On July 2017, Paramount Players was formed by the studio with the hiring of Brian Robbins, founder of AwesomenessTV, Tollin/Robbins Productions and Varsity Pictures, as the division's president. The division was expected to produce films based on the Viacom Media Networks properties including MTV, Nickelodeon, BET and Comedy Central.
On June 2017, Paramount Pictures signed a deal with 20th Century Fox for distribution of its films in Italy, which took effect on September. Prior to the deal, Paramount's films in Italy were distributed by Universal Pictures.
In April 2018, Paramount posted its first quarterly profit since 2015. Bob Bakish, CEO of parent Viacom, said in a statement that turnaround efforts "have firmly taken hold as the studio improved margins and returned to profitability. This month’s outstanding box-office performance of A Quiet Place, the first film produced and released under the new team at Paramount, is a clear sign of our progress."
Distribution deal with Netflix
On December 7, 2017, it was reported that Paramount sold the international distribution rights to Annihilation to Netflix. Netflix subsequently bought the worldwide rights to The Cloverfield Paradox for $50 million.
On November 16, 2018, Paramount signed a multi-picture film deal with Netflix as part of Viacom's growth strategy, making Paramount the first major film studio to do so. A sequel to Awesomeness Films' To All the Boys I've Loved Before is currently in development at the studio for Netflix.
Postponed re-merger of Viacom and CBS
On January 12, 2018, CNBC reported that CBS and Viacom re-entered talks to merge after Disney's proposed acquisition of 21st Century Fox assets and the heavy competition from companies such as Netflix and Amazon. This was reported at the same time as the Lionsgate acquisition talks with both companies.
On March 30, 2018, CBS made an all-stock offer slightly below Viacom's market value, and insisted that its existing leadership, including long-time chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves, oversee the re-combined company. Viacom rejected the offer as being too low, requesting an increase by $2.8 billion, and requesting that Bob Bakish be maintained as president and COO under Moonves. It was reported these conflicts had resulted from Shari Redstone seeking more control over CBS and its leadership.
Eventually, on May 14, 2018, CBS Corporation sued its and Viacom's parent company National Amusements and accused Shari Redstone of abusing her voting power in it and forcing a merger that was not supported by it or Viacom. CBS also accused Redstone of discouraging Verizon Communications from acquiring it, which could have been beneficial to its shareholders.
On May 23, Moonves stated that he considered the Viacom channels to be an "albatross," and while he favored more content for CBS All Access, he believed that there were better deals for CBS than the Viacom deal, such as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Lionsgate or Sony Pictures Entertainment. Moonves also considered Bakish a threat as he never wanted an ally of Shari Redstone as a board member of the combined company.
On September 9, 2018, following Moonves' resignation due to sexual harassment allegations, National Amusements agreed to defer any proposal of a CBS-Viacom merger for at least two years after the date of the settlement. In addition, the office of chairman will remain vacant until a new permanent CEO is appointed.