Paramount Pictures stands as the consummate Hollywood studio, a veritable paradigm for the industry at each stage of its development, from its founding in the early twentieth century as an integrated production-distribution company to its twenty-first century status as a key subdivision within Viacom's vast global media empire. During the classical Hollywood era, Paramount built the world's largest theater chain to become the dominant vertically integrated studio, while cultivating stables of contract talent and an amalgam of trademark star-genre formulas rivaled only by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). The studio's dominance was so pronounced, in fact, that it was the prime target of the US Justice Department's antitrust campaign—the epochal "Paramount case," which resulted in the postwar disintegration of the studio system and the end of Hollywood's classical studio era. Paramount struggled through the postwar era and was the first studio to succumb to the conglomerate wave of the late 1960s, when it was bought by Gulf + Western. This marked a shift in Paramount's focus toward television series production, although its film division soon regained its footing with a succession of huge hits like Love Story (1970) and The Godfather (1972).

Paramount eventually returned to movie industry prominence on the combined strength of successful film franchises—the Star Trek, Indiana Jones, and Beverly Hills Cop films, for example—along with a steady output of hit TV series. These have been the dominant elements of the studio's "house style" in the New Hollywood era, which also has seen Paramount undergo significant—and symptomatic—structural changes. During the 1980s, Gulf + Western steadily siphoned off its non-media holdings and transformed itself into Paramount Communications. Then, in the 1990s, as Hollywood underwent a second epochal conglomerate wave, Paramount was acquired by the global media giant Viacom. Any semblance of a distinct house style steadily faded after the Viacom purchase, as Paramount became simply one of many media divisions in a media empire that included Blockbuster, MTV, Showtime, Simon & Schuster, and eventually (crucially) CBS—along with literally scores of other media and entertainment units. Paramount Pictures remains a key holding and vitally important "brand" within the Viacom empire, of course, although the Paramount of the new millennium is a far cry from the film conglomerate cobbled together by Adolph Zukor (1873–1976) nearly a century earlier.

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