Warner Bros. TV: The No. 1 Studio Changes Channels

Jeff Schlesinger (left) and Peter Roth
Jeff Schlesinger (left) and Peter Roth
 

This story first appeared in the May 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

The unsurprising ouster of Warner Bros. Television group president Bruce Rosenblum on May 20 has given way to largely positive industry reaction to the promotion of Peter Roth, head of the studio's production unit. Now the question is how Roth -- along with Jeff Schlesinger, who oversees international and now domestic TV sales, and Rosenblum's former No. 2, Craig Hunegs, now president of business and strategy -- will steer Hollywood's most prolific TV studio.

All three are direct reports to new studio chief Kevin Tsujihara -- a very different proposition from the Rosenblum era, when just one top TV executive reported to the head of the studio. In Hollywood, committees rarely are seen as a strong bet. In this case, however, industry elders say they are willing to give the trio a chance.

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That's largely because of the extraordinary success of WBTV, which was on display at the recent upfronts in New York. As noted in an admiring May 20 report from Morgan Stanley, the studio had 12 of its 18 pilots picked up and 70 percent of its shows from last season renewed. The report also cited WBTV's strong syndication pipeline, with deals for the next few years already in place for The Middle, Mike & Molly and 2 Broke Girls, as well as a Netflix pact. And Warners' The Big Bang Theory is the No. 1 comedy in broadcast and syndication.

Roth is widely praised for his penchant for work and strong relationships with players that include Chuck Lorre and J.J. Abrams. (WBTV once was mocked for giving both rich deals -- but no more.) "Peter's a magnet for talent," says CBS chief Nina Tassler. Roth "loves the creative process to no end and at the same time is very comfortable wearing his business hat," echoes Bruckheimer TV exec Jonathan Littman.

Roth also is considered a good salesman. While he always has a network in mind as the prospective home for a new show, he often creates the impression that another bidder is in the mix. "He plays the networks like a fiddle," says one executive. "He extracts the most value, and we play right into his hands every year."

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At the same time, Roth -- nicknamed "the hugger" -- never has been seen as a corporate type who wants to pore over spreadsheets. A leading agent says each member of the newly promoted triumvirate has a domain that should satisfy him. "Peter could have gotten more if he really wanted it, but he didn't," says this person.

Still, some believe Rosenblum provided leadership that will be missed. "Bruce was a really, really good executive who was able to unify everything," says a talent representative. "It's just too bad they couldn't hold that together." Another concurs: "They did great under Bruce, but they have people who worked for Bruce. Whether they all get along, we'll see. But they should."

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