New Details of How Kevin Tsujihara Won Warner Bros.
Analysts rave as Jeff Bewkes picks the studio's well-liked digital head over film and TV runners-up Jeff Robinov and Bruce Rosenblum as a tortured bake-off begs the question of what happens next in the shuffle.
This story first appeared in the Feb. 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
It might not have been pretty, but Time Warner chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes might have made the best choice.
The consensus inside and outside Warner Bros. is that Bewkes did not cover himself in glory with the messy, protracted process that went into choosing a new CEO for the studio. But in Bewkes' naming the long-shot choice -- home entertainment president Kevin Tsujihara -- many insiders say they feel relieved and even optimistic.
"Kevin's a leader. He's an adult. He's very fair-minded," says one insider. Although the fate of the other two internal competitors for the job -- Bruce Rosenblum, president of the Warner Bros. Television Group, and film studio chief Jeff Robinov -- remains unclear, many say Warners has enough depth of talent to remain dominant with or without them. "What's been more destructive is the not knowing," this source says.
Tsujihara, 48, heads the most digital-oriented aspect of Hollywood's most prolific studio, which could position him to preside over an evolving business model. But he lacks creative experience making films or, more important, television programs. Bewkes had said that Time Warner primarily is a TV company, which seemingly pointed to Rosenblum as the choice. (Warners is a leading supplier to the networks, with such hit shows as CBS' The Big Bang Theory, ABC's The Middle and NBC's The Voice.) Rosenblum also was the longtime protege of outgoing chairman Barry Meyer, who tells THR that "Kevin is the right person to unify the team and make it successful."
Analyst Michael Pachter of Wedbush Securities, who calls himself "a huge Tsujihara fan," suggests that Hollywood insiders might be underestimating the importance of Tsujihara's new-technology background: "Kevin isn't a creative guy … but I don't think that matters to Bewkes as much as having a guy in charge who understands the opportunities and threats posed by digital distribution. Kevin definitely gets it, probably better than any media CEO." Brian Wieser of Pivotal Research Group agrees: "Tsujihara's selection reflects the complexity of this new ecosystem."
Several insiders also believe that Bewkes simply had a personal, even emotional preference for the affable Tsujihara. "He picked a person with whom he is personally most comfortable -- period," says one veteran Warners hand. And these observers believe Bewkes spent months wrestling with conflicting impulses. An executive closely associated with the company says he believes Rosenblum "had it in the bag and overplayed his hand by acting assumptively, internally and externally." This observer adds: "Bewkes doesn't like assumptive people. He likes being contrarian."
The question now is whether Rosenblum and Robinov will remain at the company. (In a statement, Rosenblum declared his disappointment at being passed over, while Robinov -- though clearly also miffed -- released a statement of support for Tsujihara. Both declined further comment.) Several sources say Comcast could be a home for Robinov, though it's not clear he would prefer reporting to Steve Burke. And Robinov, who has presided over the mega-blockbuster Batman/Dark Knight and Hangover franchises, could overcome his dismay partly because he's on reasonably good terms with Tsujihara and partly because he might not find another opportunity to match the allure of sitting atop the Warners studio.
"He's shifted to realize he should do what he can to survive because the options are limited and his personality is sometimes controversial," says one associate. But this observer thinks Tsujihara might want to install his own choice down the road -- "once Kevin gets entrenched and Robinov can't live without the brass ring."
Rosenblum might face pressure sooner. His contract is up in August, and there has been longtime friction with Tsujihara. Several sources believe Peter Roth, CEO of Warner Bros. Television, is looking to be elevated, and they believe that keeping him is a greater imperative for Tsujihara and Bewkes than retaining Rosenblum. Still, some observers believe Rosenblum might opt to stay if he can -- "unless he's got another offer someplace else that's really sexy," says one.
"I hope both of them stay," Tsujihara tells THR. "They're both very talented executives."