11:00am PT by Lesley Goldberg
Peter Roth Stepping Down as Warner Bros. TV Chairman
It's the end of an era at Warner Bros. TV.
Legendary and longtime studio executive Peter Roth, who currently serves as chairman of Warner Bros. Television Group, will step down when his current contract expires in early 2021. Sources say former Netflix vp originals and ex-ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey is near a deal to take over the top perch at the studio. As Roth currently does, Dungey is expected to report directly to WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group CEO Ann Sarnoff.
"Working at Warner Bros. has been the greatest, most meaningful, most rewarding experience of my career," Roth said in a statement Friday. "For the past 22 years, I have had the privilege to be associated with some of the most inspiring creative talent, the most impactful television series and the most dedicated and passionate people I have ever known. It has long been my dream to be able to say farewell at the right time in the right way and for the right reason. I’m grateful to Ann Sarnoff for giving me that opportunity and to my Warner Bros. colleagues, past and present, for giving me what has been the gift of a lifetime. I look forward to the next chapter of my career and remaining connected to those people who have meant so much to me."
Roth's exit plan has been in the works for some time. Last year, he signed a one-year extension — which sources have described as a "sunset deal" — that also saw him promoted to chairman of Warner Bros. TV Group. Working closely with Sarnoff, Warners had, over the past two years, been formulating a successor plan for Roth. That went out the window in September when his heir apparent, Susan Rovner, negotiated an early exit from the studio for a top creative job at NBCUniversal. Rovner had been with Warners for 20 years, rising through the ranks after joining in 1998 as a drama exec. She was promoted to co-president (alongside her longtime business-focused collaborator Brett Paul) in May 2019, taking on many of Roth's day-to-day responsibilities that he had held on to for years.
"Peter and I have been meeting for some time about this, and while there’s never a great moment to say goodbye, he felt that this was the right time to transition in a new leader for the group,” Sarnoff said. “He’s delivered hundreds of shows, thousands of episodes and millions of viewers, with one singular vision — to work with the best people and to make the best television series. In addition to being well-respected by his colleagues and competitors, actors, writers, directors and producers, he is the force behind iconic, pop-culture-defining television shows we all know and love, including The West Wing, The Big Bang Theory, Gilmore Girls, Two and a Half Men, Gossip Girl, Supernatural, The Flash and countless others. We’re thankful for his contributions to our company and wish him the very best."
Rovner's departure left Warners with no succession plan in place as she was a homegrown creative exec who had her fingerprints on many of the studio's most successful programs and relationships with all of its top showrunners. As part of WarnerMedia's August consolidation that saw the departure of top execs Bob Greenblatt and Kevin Reilly, exec vp drama development Clancy Collins White was promoted to a new role overseeing day-to-day of all scripted development. That seemed to overlap with the responsibilities that Rovner and Paul shared, though White reported only to the former. (She has been rumored to be joining Rovner at NBCUni.)
As for Roth, he is considered the most successful exec at a non-affiliated studio. Roth has been a stalwart at Warners since joining the company in 1999 as president. In a signal of his success, 32 primetime scripted series have reached the 100-episode milestone under Roth's purview, including The Big Bang Theory, which set a record as TV's longest-running multicamera comedy.
A proven hitmaker, Roth is a talent-friendly exec who forged close relationships with his stable of producers including Greg Berlanti, Chuck Lorre and J.J. Abrams, who all have gone on to become some of the indie studio's most valued showrunners. It was Roth, for example, who played a major role in keeping Abrams and his Bad Robot banner (Lovecraft Country, Westworld) with the company following a nearly yearlong process in which Bad Robot took meetings with the likes of Apple, Netflix, Amazon, Comcast and Sony. AT&T CEO John Stankey credited Roth with helping to keep Abrams at WarnerMedia, though Apple offered considerably more than the five-year, $250 million deal that Bad Robot ultimately signed for. "Peter Roth has been the greatest professional partner imaginable. Passionate, deeply caring, creatively curious and humane. I already miss working with him," Abrams said in a statement to THR.
Under Roth, Berlanti also blossomed to become TV's most prolific producer, with nearly 20 live-action scripted originals currently in the works for multiple broadcast networks and streaming services. Roth also negotiated Berlanti's $400 million overall deal extension that made him the highest-paid producer in Hollywood and keeps him at the studio through 2024. "From the moment he first called me in tears after reading the script for Everwood, until today — like countless others, I have been the beneficiary of Peter Roth’s unparalleled passion for great TV and unwavering advocacy for those that make it," Berlanti said in a statement to THR. "His legacy at Warner Bros., and in the television industry, of bringing hit shows to millions of audiences across the world, is and will always be unmatched."
Lorre, too, delivered hit after hit for Warners via his long-standing relationship with Roth. Lorre, who, per sources, is renegotiating a new overall deal with Warners, has been the creative force behind Two and a Half Men, Big Bang Theory and spinoff Young Sheldon, among others, for the studio. He not long ago expanded to streaming with The Kominsky Method at Netflix. Big Bang Theory is a cornerstone of WarnerMedia's top priority, HBO Max, and the nerdy comedy generated a whopping $600 million when its streaming rights were sold last year on top of an already lucrative syndication deal with WarnerMedia's TBS.
Under Roth's leadership, Warners has been the top content supplier to U.S. broadcast networks for 14 of his 20 years in charge at the studio. And while broadcast sales are no longer the only game in town, Roth steered the studio into the cable and streaming marketplace with the creation of Warner Horizon. The unit was recently folded back into Warner Bros. TV as part of parent company WarnerMedia's paradigm-shifting reorganization. As the years went on, Roth only added more to his purview. After launching Warner Horizon (and, later, its unscripted arm), Roth in 2008 was tapped to supervise Warner Bros. Animation, adding digital content studio Blue Ribbon Content in 2014.
At the start of 2020, Roth's Warner Bros. TV Group was responsible for producing more than 120 scripted and unscripted programs for broadcast, cable and streaming platforms, including HBO's Watchmen and Westworld, Showtime's Shameless, Netflix's upcoming The Sandman and The Girls on the Bus, Hulu's Shrill and Castle Rock, Apple's Ted Lasso, Amazon's The Peripheral and more than half of The CW's DC Comics-heavy roster. Roth also played a major role in developing hits including The West Wing, Gossip Girl, Smallville and unscripted entries The Voice, The Bachelor and countless others. In a fitting sign of his contributions to the TV industry, Roth is getting his own star on the famed Hollywood Walk of Fame next year.
Roth departs the studio at a time of considerable change in the industry. Parent company WarnerMedia recently underwent a major reorganization that saw seasoned creative execs Greenblatt and Reilly pushed out as CEO Jason Kilar restructured original programming for all the company's linear and streaming brands under HBO programming president Casey Bloys. Roth's exit comes as major media conglomerates WarnerMedia, Disney and NBCUniversal are increasingly focused on supplying content for their own ecosystems, including newly launched streaming platforms. This much is evident from recent restructurings at WarnerMedia and NBCUni that consolidated oversight for multiple cable networks, and in some cases, streaming platforms, under one central creative programming executive.
With regard to Dungey, it's unclear what her title will be — or what will happen to Rovner's longtime exec partner Paul. Dungey is expected to make the shift from being a buyer at Netflix (and, before that, ABC) to being a seller at a time when studios are increasingly focused on serving as content suppliers to their own networks and streaming platforms. It's considered highly unlikely that Dungey would leave Netflix — despite the streamer's reorg under global TV head Bela Bajaria — for a post at Warners where she would be under Roth. Dungey and Roth have a long-standing relationship, both from her tenure running ABC and as drama head at ABC Studios. Dungey greenlit a handful of scripted series from Roth's studio. (Warners declined comment on a replacement for Roth.)
In Dungey, Warners would get a seasoned executive with a deep roster of relationships with top showrunners and producers including Shonda Rhimes and Kenya Barris. During her tenure at Netflix, where she reunited with both the Grey's Anatomy and Black-ish creators, Dungey also forged a relationship with the Obamas. As a former network, studio and streaming exec, Dungey brings a unique skillset to a studio that, per multiple sources, is in dire need of a refresh in terms of its structure, dealmaking and creative thought process.