Hollywood's powers-to-be -- if they continue to play their cards right

By Josh Young
Updated October 24, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT

MARK SHAPIRO Just 33 years old, ESPN’s executive VP of programming and production has put the E into the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network’s lineup, greenlighting the channel’s first two original movies and the acclaimed sports soap Playmakers. Two-year-old Pardon the Interruption has scored high ratings, which Shapiro hopes to duplicate with the new ESPN2 morning gabfest Cold Pizza.

WIND-UP ENTERTAINMENT A rare big winner in the music biz, Wind-Up (cofounded in 1996 by chairman-CEO Alan Meltzer and president Steven Lerner) bears an enviable track record among indie labels for breaking mainstream acts like Creed and this year’s multiplatinum newcomer Evanescence. Its uncommon reliance on the Internet and penchant for treating its artists like family add to the allure. Sales exceeded $50 million in the first half of 2003 alone — huge for a nonmajor.

GINA CENTRELLO After taking charge of the Random House Publishing Group following January’s bloodbath, Centrello — known less as a lit person than as a stickler for the bottom line — looks to infuse her reorganized company with something she mastered at imprint Ballantine: profitability.

WILL FERRELL That bawdy turn in Old School has made the Saturday Night Live vet Hollywood’s current go-to funny guy. His next role and first starring vehicle, November’s Elf, is already generating great word of mouth. Lead roles in 2004’s Anchorman, Woody Allen’s next movie, and Winter Passing — his first drama — may just be the last ones he takes for under $20 million.

50 CENT The 27-year-old survived a potentially disastrous Queens upbringing to become 2003’s breakout star and the most talked-about rapper since 2Pac. With a CD that’s sold more than 6 million, he truly is a ”motherf — -ing P.I.M.P.”

MANAGEMENT 360 In just a year of existence, the talent management company has become a driving force in Hollywood thanks to a huge roster of up-and-comers (directors Joe Carnahan and McG, stars Julianne Moore and Reese Witherspoon). The company was a winner any way you look at it during Tobey Maguire’s recent tug-of-war with Jake Gyllenhaal over the Spidey suit — both are clients. So is Kirsten Dunst.

SOFIA COPPOLA From Hollywood punchline (after an ill-fated turn in 1990’s The Godfather Part III) to most promising filmmaker in Hollywood? Not bad for a 32-year-old. Thanks to 2000’s The Virgin Suicides and this year’s Lost in Translation (which Coppola also wrote), she’s got Oscar voters salivating and studio execs willing to hand over that most precious of commodities: creative control.

JOSEPH C. GALANTE BMG’s man in Nashville, the 32-year RCA label veteran boasts country’s strongest lineup — including Kenny Chesney and Brooks & Dunn — and even a part in an Alan Jackson video (not bad for a transplanted New Yorker). So no wonder he’s a strong contender for the top job in the country division should that BMG-Warner Music merger happen.