Peter Chernin's decision to step down from News Corp. last week was surprising, not so much for his choice to leave the company as for its timing, coming so far in advance of the expiration of his contract at the end of June.
Chernin's future had become one of the hot topics of industry fantasy football. Everyone from journalists to big-media chiefs loved to banter about whether he would re-up with Rupert Murdoch at the last minute once again or move on to a new gig, whether with Apple, Viacom or wherever the latest (generally baseless) rumor tended to be.
We don't care where he goes. We just think he should go somewhere. Certainly, not everything News Corp. has touched has turned to gold. But Chernin's leadership at the company and his relationships in the business will be missed both by Murdoch and the industry.
Beyond Murdoch's penchant for print journalism (how's that for shooting ourselves in the foot?), not many of News Corp.'s moves in recent years have been missteps. Whether for his guidance at News Corp. or his help ending last year's writers' strike, Chernin is considered one of the top execs in our world.
And frankly, now is not the time to lose any of our best people. We don't need to lay out just how bad things are around the business. The prospects of a recovery anytime in 2009 are now considered so overly optimistic that we need our industry's best hands on deck.
No doubt Chernin had his reasons for moving on, whether it was money, the ceiling created by the fact that his last name isn't Murdoch, or just the need for a change of scenery.
Further, it would be hard for anyone to turn down that sweet six-year production deal that accompanied his exit, especially given Chernin's suggestions in the past that he would love to ski 200 days a year. We also would cheer Chernin wanting to put some more resources into the worthwhile nonprofit, Malaria No More.
Chernin's departure has led to a new round of speculation as to if and how he will be replaced. Our own Claire Atkinson only half-jokingly noted the timing of Murdoch and Tom Freston sitting next to each other at Vanity Fair's Oscar party.
We hope that Chernin does resurface soon, because our industry is in a race to figure out how to monetize the technology explosion, and do so in the midst of a crippling recession. And for that, we need our best players suited up. “He gets it,” said one veteran News Corp. staffer saddened by the news of his departure.
Endeavor partner Rick Rosen, a longtime friend of Chernin, told B&C's sister publication Variety, “Knowing him as I do, I feel confident that there'll be another chapter in his business life.”
Here's hoping Peter Chernin turns the page soon, because right now this isn't exactly an uplifting tale.