(Reuters) - Peter Liguori, a former top executive at News Corp's Fox and Discovery Communications Inc, has emerged as the leading candidate for Chief Executive at Tribune Co once it emerges from bankruptcy, according to two sources close to the situation.
These sources said Liguori, 52, is in late-stage discussions, but cautioned that a deal has not been signed yet and could still fall apart.
Tribune, which filed for bankruptcy four years ago, declined to comment. Liguori did not respond to a request for comment.
Tribune's stable of assets includes newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times and 23 television stations.
Given his experience at Fox and Discovery, one source said Liguori would likely focus on the Chicago-based company's TV stations and production and digital activities if he is appointed.
At Discovery, Liguori supervised the company's launch of OWN - The Oprah Winfrey Network. He stepped down from his role as Chief Operating Officer and joined private equity firm Carlyle Group LP in July as a strategic advisor to its telecommunications and media team. He is also a director at Yahoo Inc.
A few things have to happen before Liguori gets the nod, however. To begin with, Tribune has to receive FCC approval before it can emerge from bankruptcy. Then the company needs to nominate and approve a board of directors. Further, the new CEO needs the approval of Tribune's three largest creditors - Oaktree Capital Management, JPMorgan Chase & Co and Angelo, Gordon & Co.
"They've had many conversations with him and are impressed that he will be a 24-7 CEO," said one of the sources, referring to Liguori's round-the-clock work ethic and his talks with creditors.
In 2007, real estate mogul Sam Zell acquired Tribune through a leveraged buyout that saddled the company with $13 billion in debt just as the newspaper industry hit a severe drop in advertising revenue. The company filed for bankruptcy a year later - December 8, 2008 to be exact - and has been mired in court while its creditors have fought over competing exit plans ever since.
Since 2007, newspaper advertising revenue for the industry has dropped almost 50 percent to $24 billion, according to the Newspaper Association of America.
Zell, an outspoken and salty billionaire, made waves when he took over Tribune in a transaction he later coined the "deal from hell."
He appointed radio executives such as Randy Michaels as top managers and they quickly became known for their off-color memos and for imposing a free wheeling, fraternity-like culture on the buttoned-down Tribune Co. Michaels left the company in October 2010.
Eddy Hartenstein, the former chairman and CEO of satellite operator DirecTV, has operated Tribune since May 2011.
Throughout Tribune's bankruptcy, several prominent names have emerged as contenders for the CEO post. Former NBC executive Jeff Zucker's name has been floated. So, too, has former Walt Disney Co Chief Executive Michael Eisner.
Eisner is an investor in Tribune's bonds and is also best friends with John Angelo, the co-founder and CEO of Angelo, Gordon & Co, so his potential appointment made headlines when it was rumored in 2010. But Eisner has maintained publicly that he is not interested in the job.
Additional reporting by Jennifer Saba. Editing by Andre Grenon