Fallout Over Universal Shake-Up: Adam Fogelson, Steve Burke and the Flubbed Firing

Fogelson said to be “hit hard” by a humiliating firing

Fallout from the sudden dismissal of Adam Fogelson at Universal continues to rock Hollywood with the ex-studio chief said to be “hit hard” by the news and an unexpected wave of sympathy emerging for the way he was fired.

Many in Hollywood considered it humiliating to allow Fogelson to attend the very public red carpet premiere of his movie “Rush,” on Sunday night at the Toronto Film Festival, only to be summarily fired the next day after landing in Los Angeles.

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“He’s taking it hard,” said one individual who spoke to the executive, who was completely unprepared for the news.

As it happened, Fogelson – who’d celebrated with his executives and cast until well past midnight – ended up reading in a New York Times post that NBCU exec Jeff Shell would be heading up Universal Studios and that his own future was in question, just moments before NBCU CEO Steve Burke, who flew out from New York, could personally tell him he was out.

It wasn’t supposed to have happened that way. TheWrap has learned that Burke set the meeting in advance, which Fogelson presumed to be a routine, without considering the optics of the premiere the previous night.

Why not wait a few days? “There was a date on the books,” said one insider.

Also read: NBCU Exec Jeff Shell to Head Universal Studios, Adam Fogelson Out

But the optics certainly mattered to Fogelson, who is thin-skinned under the best of circumstances. The executive was photographed at the event with co-chairman Donna Langley and their boss, Ron Meyer, with the latter aware that Fogelson’s hours were numbered.

They hit an after-party that continued until well after midnight surrounded by the cast, media and hundreds of Hollywood insiders, and got on the corporate jet Monday morning in time for Fogelson’s 1 p.m. meeting.

No one was supposed to know the news, which was closely held by Burke, Meyer and a few of their top aides. Burke was to inform Fogelson – whose spokeswoman Kori Bernards was being informed simultaneously – and then Donna Langley, who was being promoted to chairman.

The plan was to give Fogelson a day to process the news, and issue a news release the following morning.

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But in the interim New York Times reporter Brooks Barnes had gotten wind of the story, or part of it. The communications executives were in panic – who leaked it? They did not return his calls and figured Barnes would not publish without their confirmation. But within minutes, Barnes posted the story anyway, telling them he had three sources. (Best guess is that another senior NBCU executive heard about it.)

As a result, Fogelson read that his future was in doubt in the Times only to be told a few minutes later by Burke that he was in fact fired. NBCU was forced to confirm it to the rest of the world in real time, and the next-day news release plan was scuttled.

Ugly as the firing turned out to be, Fogelson’s fate had been sealed for some time. The executive was perceived by his bosses to be overconfident, and since he began to report to Burke as well as Meyer, had neglected his relationship with his former mentor, the respected Hollywood mogul. (At a fundraiser at Meyer’s house this summer for California Attorney General Kamala Harris, Donna Langley and other executives attended; Fogelson was absent.) Meanwhile, Burke “had no real relationship” with Fogelson, another knowledgeable insider said.

Around the industry, Fogelson was regarded as insecure in a job where he succeeded this year, but often complained about not getting enough credit for other accomplishments.

“He had alienated too many people,” said one person who was aware of the internal discussions. “Agents didn’t want to work with him. Adam’s hubris got in the way.”

Nonetheless, the firing was more painful than it had to be. And the fact that Fogelson does not have a big fan base makes the cringing on his behalf the more remarkable.