BREAKING NEWS: I’ve learned that the announcement may be made as soon as later today. The restructuring of the stand-alone DC Comics business is being described to me as Warner Bros Pictures Group president Jeff Robinov’s first priority since having his contract re-upped by Time Warner. I know what everybody is thinking: that this move is in response to the announcement August 31st that Disney is buying Marvel. You can think that, but you would be wrong. This change has been in the works quietly for two years ever since Robinov moved into the top slot. “It was Jeff’s idea to have DC Comics reporting to him, and DC will be his direct responsibility with Diane Nelson,” an insider confided to me. I’ve also learned that Robinov for months has quietly gone to producers like Chuck Roven and Joel Silver and Akiva Goldman and “called back” all their high profile DC titles in development like The Flash and Wonder Woman. Not only was that shocking to the producers, but even more so when they found out this was part of Robinov’s strategy to severely limit the number of gross participants on the projects. Because the producers were told that they may get the titles back to develop, but with far less rich deals. “Jeff always wanted some kind of oversight of DC, and now he wants Warner’s to hold onto ownership,” my insider explains. (My understanding is that Joel Silver, who is buddies with Robinov, was allowed to continue bringing low profile The Losers to the big screen under his Dark Castle banner. But Silver’s 10 years of developing Wonder Woman is history now.)
I’m told that Robinov went to management as soon as he took over as president of Warner Bros Pictures Group in January 2007 with a proposal to take over DC Comics. It’s taken this long to get it done. Paul Levitz, DC Comics president and publisher, will stay with the company.
UPDATE: *But DC Comics insiders are now telling me that Levitz told senior staff this morning he will “transition out” after a new publisher is sought and found. He chose to leave after 35 years at the comic book company. Warner Bros gave him an option to stay but in a different capacity. “He was a constructive, positive partner in the restructure,” a source advises me. But his reporting structure was going to change. (Previously, he’d reported to Alan Horn. One insider told me Levitz’s conversation with senior staff this morning went like this, “Don’t worry. No one should sweat right now. It’s all going to be fine.”*
Put in charge and reporting directly to Robinov will be Nelson, the brilliant marketer who beginning in 2000 oversaw the management of the Harry Potter franchise across all platforms and represented the studio’s interests with author JK Rowling. The plan is to have her do the same with DC Comics biz. (Kudos to the website BleedingCool.com, which on August 25th first tipped that Nelson might “take on more new projects at the media empire — including DC Comics”.)
Nelson has served as President of Warner Premiere the studio-based production company which develops and produces direct-to-consumer DVD and short-form digital programming content since its founding in August 2006. She’s already well familiar with DC Comics since it has titles already in development and production and release with Warner Premiere. Prior to that, Nelson served as EVP of Global Brand Management at Warner Bros Entertainment since May 2004, with the primary responsibility of working cross-divisionally and throughout Time Warner to maximize and optimize all the various windows and outlets available to the Studio’s signature franchises, brands and event properties on a global basis. And, before that, Nelson was EVP of Domestic Marketing for Warner Bros Pictures.
Problems have plagued the DC Comics-Warner Bros relationship. For instance, the the film division didn’t nail down the legal rights to Watchmen adequately, with mogul after mogul shaking their heads in disbelief how Warner Bros could even have started filming the graphic novel with 20th Century Fox still laying claim to the pic. Cutting Fox in at the last minute with Paramount already an overseas played wrought havoc with Warner Bros’ economics on the movie. But the biggest failure has been to leave the most valuable DC Comics characters in movie development limbo by chaotically starting and stopping work on scripts for the high profile live action pics. Of Superman, Wonder Woman, and the Justice League, only Batman has an ongoing live action franchise. And now that director Chris Nolan is working on back-to-back pics, who knows when the threequel will get a start date. Most recently, it appears that Warner Bros and DC Comics are getting their act together. Jonah Hex has wrapped, and Green Lantern starts shooting in the spring. That’s the same time period that Human Target debuts on Fox. There’s also been some very successful development by DC Comics SVP of Creative Affairs Gregory Noveck. Meanwhile, Marvel is exploiting the hell out of its characters with an ultra-ambitious and self-financed (except for Spider-Man at Sony and X-men at Fox) film slate.