2ND WRITETHRU (UPDATES 1:30 & 4:15 PM VERSIONS): Warner Bros Chairman/CEO Barry Meyer stays on for 2 more years. President/COO Alan Horn leaves next April and becomes consultant until the end of 2013. An Office Of The President is created and shared by Jeff Robinov, Bruce Rosenblum, and Kevin Tsujihara. Those are the headlines from today’s shakeup and succession announcement. This was expected, especially when Meyer kept dropping hints around Hollywood recently that he wanted to stay on. So was Horn, but the bad blood that’s existed between him and Time Warner chief Jeff Bewkes is legion. After all, Horn never cozied up to Bewkes even when Jeff was rumored to be taking over the top Time Warner job. “Alan never reached out to Jeff. Even with all the rumors of Jeff’s impending promotion, Alan never chased a relationship with Jeff at all. Never,” according to an insider. That dictated Alan would be gone according to the March 2009 don’t-let-the-door-hit-in-you-in-the-ass schedule of 2 years dictated by Bewkes. But not Barry now. “Alan’s really very hurt. He’s a very prideful guy,” a Horn pal tells me today. “It would have been much easier for him if Barry was leaving at the same time. Until very recently, Alan’s expectation was that he and Barry would be.” (How Horn could not have known what everybody else in Hollywood did, that Meyer wanted another 2 years, demonstrates how out of touch he has been and still is. But that is the result of Alan’s peculiar arrogance.)
I’ve just learned that Bewkes behind the scenes clarified his intentions to the new co-president troika. He told them he was not delaying succession. Instead, he made it clear that in 2 1/2-to-3 years, the trio of execs will be running Warner Bros together — that is, unless one of them fucks up. Bewkes told them: “I’m not bringing someone in and I don’t want a horserace. The 3 of you bring different skill sets to this so I want you to do this together.”
So why was Barry renewed for 2 more years? I’m told to “ease the transition”. There’s the transition with Wall Street because Bewkes has begun positioning Time Warner as a TV-centric company, noting that 80% of the Big Media behemoth’s profitability is from Turner, HBO, and half of Warner Bros. But there’s also another transition Meyer must ease, according to some of my sources. “Bewkes is not so confident that Jeff [Robinov] is ready to step up, that he has the visibility or stature or personality to lead a theatrical division. Bewkes lets Rosenblum and Tsujihara talk to analysts. Robinov does not. Bewkes does not perceive Robinov at the same level. So Bewkes wants Barry on the front lines.” But, of all the co-presidenting trio, Robinov is the only one now with clear air. He no longer has to answer to Horn for greenlight authority after April 1st, and Meyer has always backburnered anything film-related. Whereas Rosenblum and Tsujihara still have their boss around. But Meyer gave them far more authority than Horn ever gave Robinov. (More on Robinov below.)
Meyer also positioned himself inside Hollywood and with Bewkes as the only mogul who could keep the upcoming Hollywood guild negotiations from running off the rails because he is the most extreme hardliner of all the studio and network bosses. (Indeed, his fellow moguls estimated to me that Barry extended the agony of the WGA strike by at least six weeks because he considered the labor action such a personal affront and didn’t “want to reward a strike”. But then, when SAG didn’t strike, he didn’t want to reward that either.) Today’s announcement comes just days from the kickoff of the negotiations season for contracts expiring in 2011. (On September 27th, SAG and AFTRA will begin jointly bargaining with the AMPTP for 7 weeks, followed by the DGA in mid-November. No date has yet been set for the WGA, whose contract ends May 1, 2011, but Meyer and the moguls and the AMPTP intend to negotiate with the writers last to ensure there’s the most Hollywood pressure on them.)
Back in late 2008-early 2009, when Meyer and Horn were renegotiating their own contracts, Bewkes balked at giving the Warner Bros duo a full 3-year, or 4-year, or 5-year vote of confidence. In the end, after not wanting to renew the pair, Bewkes kept them on a humiliating 2-year choke chain. Bewkes had only been in charge of Time Warner for one year, and Hollywood was waiting for him to shake things up at Warner Bros like when he re-possessed Bob Shaye’s New Line. He’s a cautious man, and he did the cautious thing.
At the time, cranky and tired Barry wanted to retire. But something happened to Meyer when he finally got his expiration date from Bewkes: it reanimated him. Suddenly, he was back doing his job aggressively. Warner Bros TV made a comeback after 2 years of losing clout when it couldn’t produce any successful new shows amid a plethora of expensive creative deals. But profitability wasn’t affected because of a legacy of TV hits. But credit also goes to Bruce Rosenblum, President of the Warner Bros Television Group, who for some time now has ably filled the power vacuum created by Meyer’s once imminent departure. Rosenblum now runs his division almost autonomously. If he titularly comes back under Meyer’s thumb, but don’t expect Bruce to give a shit. “Bruce is all about the hands-on creative and distribution and dealing-making process which Barry allowed him to do a lot more of in recent years. Also, while Barry is sitting back, Bruce is overseeing the TV strategy transition from analog to digital. All digital conversations are going through Bruce’s office.”
As for Horn, he just got more distracted and depleted after the rug was pulled out from under him. And just as stubborn: he wouldn’t relinquish control of the film studio even though everyone knew Robinov was ready to assume it. (I once asked Horn why he kept Robinov on board, and Alan replied archly, “Because he works hard.”) Horn wouldn’t even give autonomy to a specialty film division. First, he fired Mark Gill at Warner Independent even though March Of The Penguins made a mint. Then Alan made it dependent. Then he killed it altogether.
Horn also was imposing his personal taste in films at he expense of Warner Bros’ bottom line. He chose to make message movies but also money losers like Blood Diamond. He refused to put any money behind Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby until the critics rallied around it. Everyone in Hollywood was convinced that Warner Bros shrugged off Slumdog Millionaire because PC-obsessed Alan “didn’t get it”. (He felt the harrowing poverty of the Indian slum kids didn’t mesh with the uplifting payoff. Instead, Robinov fell on his sword for the boss’ decision to hand off 50% of the eventual Best Picture Oscar winner to Fox Searchlight.) Horn opposed the making of The Hangover — “again, because it’s not his sensibilities” — and only embraced it once the pic did so well. It’s because of Alan that Warner Bros doesn’t have any relationships with the hot comedy film producers like Adam Sandler and Judd Apatow and Ben Stiller. Horn’s idea of a laugher? The geezer-driven The Bucket List from his old partner Rob Reiner, who’s unemployable anywhere but WB. And the general consensus is that the studio under Horn has been incapable of mounting effective Oscar campaigns. Those movies that have won awards’ major categories — The Departed, Eastwood’s stuff, The Blind Side — did so in spite of Warner Bros, not because of it.
Horn’s film division also was embarrassed by not nailing down the legal rights to Watchmen adequately. Mogul after mogul in Hollywood couldn’t understand how Warner Bros could even have started filming the graphic novel with 20th Century Fox still laying claim to the pic. And Watchmen looks like it won’t earn out with no domestic legs and no interest overseas. (Snarked one rival studio exec: “Now Alan is going to use Watchmen as justification to ban all R-rated films at Warner Bros.”) Which leads me to Horn’s biggest failure: leaving the most valuable DC Comics characters in movie development limbo for most of his tenure. While Warner Bros was paralyzed by indecision, chaotically starting and stopping work on scripts with DC characters, Marvel was exploiting the hell out of its characters with an ultra-ambitious film development slate. And now Marvel is part of the Disney marketing machine. Of Superman, Wonder Woman, and the Justice League, only Batman has a successful live action ongoing franchise. And Warner Bros is now embroiled in a fight for Superman’s film life with the rightsholders. And who knows how Green Lantern will turn out? But mining a minor DC character like Jonah Hex was last summer’s studio money pit.
Horn also was foolish, as I’ve reported previously, to not acquiesce when Meyer wanted him to assume more of the load for television, which was supposed to be part of Alan’s job responsibilities. Horn promised he would, then didn’t. Then again, after Alan sold Castle Rock to Ted Turner and made a mint for himself and his partners, he had “fuck you” money and made sure everyone at Warner Bros knew it. That toxic combination of stubbornness and arrogance is what got Horn bounced from Warner Bros before Meyer.
Meanwhile, Horn treated Robinov for years like his errand boy, and Robinov viewed Horn at times like a valued mentor and other times like a plantation owner who wouldn’t let his executive go free. Despite promotions, Robinov was kept on Horn’s leash since Alan retained greenlight authority. Robinov wanted freedom last year. His contract was coming due that December and he hinted strongly about leaving for the chairmanship of Universal Pictures. (Uni brass claims he was never offered it.)
It took three months of negotiations, and a face-to-face meeting in New York City with Bewkes the week of August 17th, 2009, but Robinov finally stepped out of Horn’s shadow and established his own independent relationship with the Time Warner boss. That month, Robinov was re-upped as president of the Warner Bros Pictures Group with the understanding that he’d have autonomy over marketing and distribution — though still not greenlight authority.
Bewkes did the right thing. The movie studio once again in 2009 and now 2010 has been and is having a banner year. And, with help from New Line in the fold, it’s succeeding not just with huge testosterone tentpoles but also comedies and chick flicks. And Robinov has a close relationship with Chris Nolan. As such, Robinov deserves a lot of credit. Yes, the whole relationship with DC Comics is still a mess, but Robinov appointee Diane Nelson is fixing it. And I’ve learned there’ll be an announcement in 4 weeks about a slate of new films from there.
Here’s the official Warner Bros announcement:
JEFF BEWKES, CHAIRMAN AND CEO, TIME WARNER, ANNOUNCES LEADERSHIP CHANGES AT WARNER BROS.
Effective April 1, 2011, Barry Meyer, Chairman and CEO, to Extend Contract and Alan Horn, President and COO, to Enter a Consultancy Agreement until End of 2013
Jeff Robinov, President, Warner Bros. Pictures Group, Bruce Rosenblum, President, Warner Bros. Television Group, and Kevin Tsujihara, President, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group, to form Office of the President
NEW YORK, September 22, 2010 – Jeff Bewkes, Chairman and CEO, Time Warner Inc., announced leadership changes at Warner Bros. to position the company for succession. As part of the plan, Barry Meyer, Chairman and CEO, and Alan Horn, President and COO, will remain in their current roles for the next six months. Beginning April 1, 2011, Meyer will extend his contract, and Horn will enter into a consultancy agreement, both through December 2013.
In addition, Bewkes also announced the formation of an Office of the President comprised of Jeff Robinov, President, Warner Bros. Pictures Group; Bruce Rosenblum, President, Warner Bros. Television Group; and Kevin Tsujihara, President, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group, which will report to Meyer beginning on April 1, 2011. In this capacity, each executive will retain his current responsibilities while becoming more engaged in the operations of the overall company, at a time of convergence of content and distribution platforms throughout the entertainment industry.
“After a great deal of thought and many discussions with Barry and Alan, we decided that this phased plan was in the best interest of Warner Bros. and its businesses,” said Bewkes. “Barry and Alan have overseen the most successful years in the company’s history, and I am very pleased that they are remaining to guide this transition and to ensure as little disruption to our operations as possible.”
Bewkes continued, “The formation of the Office of the President acknowledges the many contributions Jeff, Bruce and Kevin have made and the leadership they continue to show not only in their businesses but in our industry as well. Their vision will take Warner Bros. into the future, and we are very confident in their abilities to chart its strategic direction and define new areas of growth for the company.”
“Stability and consistency are the hallmarks of Warner Bros., and this plan underscores our commitment to an orderly succession and to promoting from within,” said Meyer. “I have been enormously fortunate to have a partner in Alan Horn, whose integrity and talent are unrivaled, and with whom I have worked side by side for the past 12 years. I am very glad that we will continue to work together and that his consultancy is linked to my future plans at the company.”
Horn said, “It’s been a privilege and an honor to work at Warner Bros. and to build its motion pictures operations into a global force. From our beloved Harry Potter to all the wonderful films we have going forward, I am very proud of what we’ve accomplished and happy that Barry and I will continue to provide support to the Studio going forward.”