updated 10/5/2009 7:36:59 PM ET 2009-10-05T23:36:59

Universal Studios on Monday replaced two of its top movie executives in an apparent effort to reverse the box-office slump that has dropped it from fourth to last place among the six major Hollywood studios.

Universal Studios President and Chief Operating Officer Ron Meyer said Universal Pictures co-chairs Marc Shmuger and David Linde were stepping down.

The two will be replaced with Adam Fogelson, who is the studio's marketing chief, and Donna Langley, the studio's president for production.

Meyer said Langley will report to Fogelson as she continues to oversee all production.

Shmuger and Linde were released following a summer of high-profile films that delivered disappointing returns, such as "Land of the Lost" and "Funny People."

(Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal. Universal pictures is a division of the latter.)

The move marks the fourth studio to shuffle its executive ranks in the last few months as Hollywood struggles with falling DVD sales despite upbeat revenue and attendance at movie theaters.

It also came despite Shmuger and Linde having three more years on their contracts, although they had the option to work as movie producers for Universal.

Studio chair Dick Cook resigned at The Walt Disney Co. last month and was replaced on Monday by Disney Channels Worldwide President Rich Ross. Chief Executive Harry Sloan at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. was replaced in August, and Viacom Inc.'s Paramount Pictures removed executives John Lesher and Brad Weston in June.

Universal has fared particularly poorly at the box office this year.

Its movies grossed 28 percent less at U.S. and Canadian theaters in the first nine months of 2009 than in the same period last year, falling to $695 million from $959 million, according to Rentrak Corp.

It slipped into sixth place among six major studios, with a 9 percent share of the market, down from 13 percent a year ago.

The shift came despite releasing about the same number of movies over the period — 17 this year versus 16 a year ago.

Rick Finkelstein, Universal Pictures' vice chairman and chief operating officer, was named a strategic adviser to Fogelson and Langley.

The three leaders have "the right combination of strong talent relationships and business acumen, as well as creative and commercial instincts," Meyer said in a statement.

NBC Universal, which houses the movie studio, is 80 percent owned by General Electric Co. and 20 percent owned by France's Vivendi SA.

Vivendi has an annual window to unload the holdings, which this year falls between Nov. 15 and Dec. 10. Its CEO has called the stake in NBC Universal "non-core."

If Vivendi does sell, GE is expected to buy the stake. GE has been in talks with Comcast Corp. to spin NBC Universal off into a new company in which Comcast would own up to a 51 percent share.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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