Bob Kerrey on MPAA: ‘We Couldn’t Reach Agreement’

After flirting with the Hollywood post for months, former U.S. senator breaks off talks. Moguls say he made too many demands

The Motion Picture Association of America needs to keep looking for a new chief.

After flirting with becoming Hollywood’s main lobbyist for months, former U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey has turned down the MPAA job, the organization announced on Thursday.

"The Motion Picture Association of America, Inc. (MPAA) today announced that the MPAA Board and former Senator Bob Kerrey have agreed to end negotiations regarding the position of Chief Executive Officer of the MPAA. The search process for a new CEO will continue," the group said in a statement.

In an email to TheWrap, the former senator said that he broke things off.

"We couldn't reach agreement and I called to suggest we break off talks. They agreed," Kerrey wrote. "The decision was mutual.  I like them a lot and wish them well."

But individuals close to the negotiations on the studios' side said that Kerrey had made mounting demands that resulted in some losing enthusiasm for giving him the job.

"He wanted the job, but on his terms," said one such individual. "He had a lot of demands, and a lot of people were coming off of him."

Kerrey is involved in numerous charities, and apparently wanted to be able to continue those commitments while chairing the MPAA, an intense, high-level lobbying position.

The negotiations had been led by Disney chairman Bob Iger and Warner Brothers chairman Barry Meyer.

This puts the MPAA in a difficult position, with no clear backup plan. Kerrey — currently president of New School in Manhattan — was seen as the best, indeed the only contender, for the $1.3-million-a-year job. The group now lacks clear leadership in Washington in a post that's been open ever since former chief Dan Glickman announced he was stepping down in January.

MPAA President and Chief Operating Officer Bob Pisano will continue to serve in the CEO post on an interim basis.

The breakdown in talks comes as a shock. As recently as two weeks ago, Kerrey publicly hinted to Don Imus that he was poised to accept the MPAA post.

"I haven't taken it yet," Kerry told Imus on his radio show. "I would say we're in the final stages of negotiating."

"Now we're talking details," the former senator added. "Unless something breaks down in that conversation, I expect to take the job."

Negotiations hit a snag in the past few weeks with Kerrey and the various studio chiefs disagreeing about a possible start date. The MPAA wanted Kerrey to start in September, but he was also in no hurry to give his two weeks notice to New School, something that would have required him to return the keys to the 11th Street brownstone he gets as the college's president.

It was hoped that Kerrey would represent a return to the inside-the-Beltway brand of leadership offered by longtime MPAA chief Jack Valenti, something that Glickman, a former congressman and secretary of agriculture, was seen as lacking.

In a show of how important the studio chiefs believed deep Washington connections were for the post, the moguls had also been considering former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford Jr., but he, too, elected to drop out of the running.

Whoever the MPAA ultimately taps, it will be hard pressed to match Kerrey's political connections. Kerrey is a former two-term governor of Nebraska, a two-term U.S. senator and was a Democratic presidential hopeful in 1992.

Kerrey did come with baggage, however. His stormy nine-year tenure at New School saw student protests and a faculty vote of "no-confidence," as the left-leaning college, Kerrey’s moderate political views and initial support for the Iraq War caused something of a culture clash. But it was a habit of firing provosts and autocratic managerial style that inspired the most spirited opposition and might have spelled trouble in a new position as the film industry's chief diplomat.