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This story first appeared in the June 28 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Back in January, when Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes announced that Kevin Tsujihara would head Warner Bros. Entertainment, Bruce Rosenblum, who presided over the studio’s TV group, got a call from Legendary’s Thomas Tull. The two men know each other well — though Legendary barely had dipped its toe into TV, it has been co-financing some of Warners’ biggest films since 2005 — and Tull offered, “If you ever think about doing something that is not the big corporate life, let me know.”
Five months later, Rosenblum finally agreed to move across the Warners lot in Burbank and head a new TV and digital media unit for Legendary. The surprise hire — most thought Rosenblum would segue to a big network or another established studio — has been interpreted as an expert chess move by Tull, not just because Rosenblum brings 26 years of experience building Hollywood’s leading TV studio and creating such hits as CBS’ The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men.
With Legendary’s film deal at Warners set to expire at year’s end and speculation rampant that it might move to Universal or another studio, Tull has taken another step toward showing he isn’t beholden to Warners. (Tull said June 18 that he could make a decision within 60 days, and a source says he has ruled out Paramount and Disney.) At the same time, he is adding another major piece to a company valued at $3 billion that could one day become a fully diversified and self-sufficient studio.
Legendary’s decision to invest in TV in a big way is seen as typical of the way Tull now operates: entering a new arena modestly, surveying the situation, then making a major commitment once he’s more comfortable. In January 2011, he tested the TV waters by hiring development executive Jeremy Elice and setting up a deal at Warner Bros. TV. But a year and a half later, with little to show for the effort, Tull quietly shut down the banner, deciding to wait before making another foray. “If you’re going to put the kind of capital to work that we do when we go into an area — and TV is one of those areas — you have to be prudent,” Tull tells THR.
It’s similar to the way Tull has set out to conquer the Chinese film market. He first launched Legendary East, also in 2011, in a deal with Hong Kong’s Paul Y. Engineering Group, but no film projects ever came of it. A year later, the deal fell apart. Then, on May 30, he announced a new and bigger three-year co-production agreement between Legendary East and the state-backed China Film Co., which will give him the ability to release blockbusters in China. That makes Legendary even more attractive to another studio if it breaks up with Warners.
At the moment, Legendary’s film fortunes are on the rise. The baseball drama 42, which Tull personally produced and Warners released, has been a surprise hit, grossing $93.7 million domestically. While The Hangover Part III has disappointed in the U.S., it has pulled in $310 million worldwide to date. And Man of Steel, on which Legendary is partnered 50/50 with Warners, just debuted to a global opening weekend of $200 million. A big test will be Guillermo del Toro‘s sci-fi action movie Pacific Rim, which Warners will release July 12 and of which Legendary has shouldered three-quarters of the reported $200 million budget.
Legendary’s renewed TV aspirations are not only to produce for the traditional outlets — network, cable and syndication. Rosenblum has been there and done that, and he has told friends he wants to work in a smaller, more entrepreneurial environment. (A TV veteran also notes there are few big TV jobs available, even if he wanted one.) In their conversations, Rosenblum says he became convinced Tull understands that digital forces are reshaping the TV industry and its means of distribution. While Rosenblum plans to work with traditional platforms, he also intends to explore digital ones including Netflix, Amazon and YouTube, developing original ideas as well as drawing from Legendary’s library of films, comic books and games. Rosenblum’s first task will be staffing the unit and meeting with agencies and potential buyers. But unlike at WB, he will need to keep overhead low. “It’s costly, and with no prior revenue streams from syndication, it will be years before he contributes to the bottom line,” notes an observer.
Still, Tull says he’s willing to be patient and bet on Rosenblum’s experience: “If there’s somebody better in TV than Bruce, I don’t know him.”
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