This is a big development for Fox. Tom Rothman, who once raised money for indie productions by the likes of Spike Lee and Jim Jarmusch, founded Fox Searchlight in 1994, and has led Fox proper since 2000. As co-chairman and CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment he has been very hands-on with all the studio’s productions, especially the major tentpole releases. His heavy hand was infamous on the set of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but in the past two years we’ve seen Fox turn around. Last summer the studio released X-Men First Class and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, both films that worked as blockbuster entertainment and critical successes. But now Rothman is unexpectedly leaving the company.

Ben Fritz of the LA Times tweeted the news of Rothman’s departure. THR originally said that the move is effective immediately, and that ”all studio operations will be consolidated under studio co-chairman Jim Gianopulos.” In fact, thanks to a letter Rothman sent out this evening, we know the transition will be fast, but not immediate. Gianopulos will be sole chairman starting January 1.

I wonder if there’s more to this story; as of now, this is the official line. (Update: Indeed, the LA Times reports that Rothman learned this week that he was being forced out of Fox, and that his managerial style was a contributing factor to his departure from the company, over a year before the March 2014 expiration of his current contract.)

My Dear Friends,

I have decided that, after more than 18 years — the bulk of my adult working life — I am resigning as Chairman and CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment, effective January 1, 2013.  During my time at Fox, thanks to you, we have together accomplished more than I ever imagined possible, from the founding and nurturing of Searchlight, to overseeing the two biggest films in box office history, to consistently ranking at the top among studio profitability year in and year out (including our most recent strong fiscal year), and, most of all, making dozens of exceptional films that I believe will stand the test of time.  I’m proud as hell of that run.  But I’ve done the same thing, at the same place, for a long time (indeed, in the 75 year history of our studio, no one has supervised movies for longer except Darryl Zanuck himself).  I do need some new challenges and to write a new chapter.

I love Fox and all of you and take comfort knowing that, although there is never a perfect time to leave, because the slate for the next several years is in awesome shape, this is at least a pretty good one.  I know that Jim G. and all of you will continue our long tradition of winning ways, and I will be rooting hard for you.  I will also be around until the end of the year to help with the transition and celebrate some of the hits we are about to have. 

Finally, let me say, how eternally grateful I will always be for the privilege and the honor of having had this job, and above all else, working with you all –  quite simply, the best, most talented, and the kindest colleagues in the world.  If I can leave you with one thought, it’s this:  for all these years, I have tried to do the job with, above all else, integrity.  I think our company stands for doing what is right, even if that is not always easy, and for prizing honesty and forthrightness.  I hope that you will carry that mission forward.  As for me, a bunch of you guys know what the tattoo on my ankle says.  It’s what I wish for us all:  “Excelsior”!

With Love and Gratitude,

Tom

A press release from Fox features some of Rothman’s letter, and also outlines a lot of division reorganization that will go on at the company:

In conjunction with Rothman’s departure, News Corporation announced a reorganization of its studio operations that separates the film and television production units.  As a result, the film business will now assume the name Twentieth Century Fox Film, and is comprised of Twentieth Century Fox Film, Fox Searchlight Pictures, Fox 2000, Fox Animation/Blue Sky Studios, Fox International Productions, and Fox Home Entertainment.

Twentieth Century Fox Television, which also includes Fox Television Studios and Fox 21, is now an autonomous business unit within News Corporation, and will no longer be combined with the Company’s film operations.  Accordingly, current Co-Chairs Dana Walden and Gary Newman will now report directly to Chase Carey, News Corporation’s President and Chief Operating Officer.

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