Fox shutting down youth-focused film unit

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - 20th Century Fox is shutting down its Fox Atomic label, which was created in 2007 to cater to the youth market for comedy and genre films.

During its brief history, Atomic had modest success with pictures such as “28 Weeks Later,” which grossed $45 million domestically, and “The Hills Have Eyes 2.” But it fell short with such recent films as “The Rocker,” “Miss March” and “12 Rounds.”

Debbie Liebling, who served as the unit’s president, will return to Fox proper as executive vice president of production under co-presidents of production Emma Watts and Alex Young.

She will see Atomic’s remaining releases through post-production: the high school comedy “I Love You, Beth Cooper,” directed by Chris Columbus and starring Hayden Panettiere, and the horror tale “Jennifer’s Body,” directed by Karyn Kusama and starring Megan Fox, both of which Fox will release; and “Post Grad,” directed by Vicky Jenson and starring Alexis Bledel, which will go out through Fox Searchlight.

Liebling came to Fox from Comedy Central in 2002 and shepherded films such as “Borat” and “Dodgeball.” She then moved to Atomic in 2007.

About six employees on Atomic’s feature production staff will receive pink slips.

Peter Rice, as then-head of specialty division Fox Searchlight, originally oversaw Atomic with John Hegeman, who served as COO. The goal was to reach the teen audience for movies and digital products, but Atomic failed to hit it big, and its status within Fox has been in question for months.

Heightening the uncertainty surrounding Atomic was the fact that its two co-founders have moved on to other roles. Rice was named chairman of Fox Entertainment last month as part of a reorganization of parent company News Corp.’s Los Angeles-based entertainment units. Hegeman moved to New Regency Prods. in early 2008 after Fox absorbed Atomic’s marketing operations into Fox and Fox Searchlight.