He'd held the job for six years -- an eon by Hollywood standards and three times longer than any of his predecessors -- but Mr. Schwartz's last year had been particularly rough: Tepid results from schlocky genre pictures such as "Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning" or "Snakes on a Plane" were one thing; a high-profile Jim Carrey vehicle such as "The Number 23" fizzling proved another matter entirely.
Things were looking up
The departure came as it so often does in Hollywood--just when things were getting better. "Hairspray," grossing $100 million worldwide so far, is New Line's most successful picture since 2005's "Wedding Crashers." "Rush Hour 3" is expected to dominate the box office for much of the late summer, including its opening weekend, Aug. 10.
There are cardinal rules in Hollywood, and one commandment near the top is "Thou Shalt Not Make Thy Famously Mercurial Boss Look Bad." In March, Mr. Schwartz found himself in the ultimate no-win scenario: Not only had he the misfortune of having a lackluster slate to market, but he also had been tasked with opening "The Last Mimzy," a children's picture that New Line's founder Bob Shaye had directed himself. It open well-below Mr. Shaye's expectations, grossing only $24 million worldwide, indeed making it Mr. Schwartz's last "Mimzy."
In a statement, Mr. Shaye called Mr. Schwartz "a friend and colleague" and "a superb marketing executive," one whose departure "I sincerely regret."
Whether Mr. Shaye's "Mimzy" was mediocre or excellent or dreck is something best left to critics and film historians. But as a New Line insider put it, "It opened with 40% to 50% awareness levels. That's the CEO's movie, and you don't do that around here."
Reached a ceiling
Reached for comment, Mr. Schwartz told Ad Age the decision to leave was "amicable and mutual," explaining that because the studio's founder is still also its top exec, he'd also, effectively, reached a management ceiling.
"Part of the appeal of joining New Line was the possibility of advancement," said Mr. Schwartz. "It became clear that, because senior management is always in place, that wasn't going to happen. And the only way you can explore what's out there is, well, by being 'out there.'"
Mr. Schwartz says he's looking forward to his first vacation in 20 years, but also mulling whether to explore web content ventures, especially after the success of the "Lord of the Rings" marketing efforts he helped coordinate for online.
The affable Mr. Schwartz, who will leave at the end of the month, is being replaced by Fox Broadcasting and FX marketing head, Chris Carlisle. How he'll play with Mr. Shaye will be closely watched by the town, for Mr. Carlisle is known for being particularly aggressive and hands-on. Like Shaye, he gets behind the camera personally directing numerous film shoots for Fox promotional campaigns. Indeed, it was Carlisle who himself shot that imposing photo of "The Shield" star Michael Chiklis that became a ubiquitous on billboards throughout Los Angeles.
History repeating itself
Oddly, the hire of Mr. Carlisle is history repeating itself at New Line. The Fox marketing exec inherits the very same scenario that Mr. Schwartz did upon his arrival at New Line in 2001: opening an enormously costly fantasy picture, based on a wildly popular trilogy.
In December 2001, Mr. Schwartz opened New Line's then most expensive picture, the $93 million J.R.R. Tolkien epic "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring."
In December 2007, Mr. Carlisle will release New Line's most expensive picture -- at a cost of reportedly more than $180 million -- "The Golden Compass," based on the "His Dark Materials" trilogy by Philip Pullman.
MR. Carlisle is not exactly known for showing restraint: He was the first markeing exec to offer free, streaming online episodes of edgy shows such as "The Shield," "Nip/Tuck" and "Rescue Me." And, in 2004, Mr. Carlisle famously buried America in some 2 million DVDs of the pilot episode of "House" in Entertainment Weekly and People.
"House" finished its season on Fox at the very top of the Nielsen ratings, with well more than 17 million people watching the finale; no doubt, one of them was Bob Shaye.