Sony Infighting Led to TV Chief Steve Mosko's Exit

Lynton Mosko Newsletter - H - 2016

The strained relationship between SPE CEO Michael Lynton and Mosko played a significant role in the latter's exit from Sony Pictures Television after a nearly 24-year run.

In the summer of 2013, Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton was concerned that Steve Mosko, head of the film studio's money-minting but lower-profile television division, was angling for a bigger role at the company. "Steve Mosko is actively campaigning to be made COO of SPE,” Lynton wrote in an email to Nicole Seligman, then SPE's president, according to emails made public in the Sony hack. Seligman's reaponse: “Steve/COO? Oy."

That strained relationship between Lynton and Mosko — made worse via the revelation of private emails and documents in the 2014 hack, according to several sources — played a significant role in Mosko's exit from Sony Pictures Television on Wednesday after a nearly 24-year run. Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht, co-presidents of U.S. programming and production for SPT, are expected to be elevated to Mosko's role later this week.

While Mosko, whose contract was set to expire in November, was in the midst of conversations about his future with the independent studio — producer of such hits as NBC's The Blacklist, AMC's Better Call Saul, Starz's Outlander and syndication stalwarts Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy — he instead abruptly exited the company, catching many of those who do business with him off-guard. Through a Sony spokesman, he declined to comment, but the spokesman says, "This decision had nothing to do with personality differences."

Mosko — who over more than two decades rebuilt Sony's television division into a prolific producer of top-quality dramas (Netflix's Bloodline), comedies (CBS' new Kevin James sitcom), reality (ABC's Shark Tank), daytime fare (Dr. Oz) and even digital series (Jerry Seinfeld's Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee) — succeeded despite SPT being an independent studio not tied to a network with a corporate mandate to buy from it. Mosko also oversaw an international business with channels in 180 countries and lured A-list creators to the studio such as Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad) and Shawn Ryan (The Shield), riding the proliferation of television outlets in recent years to success on broadcast, cable and streaming services.

But running an indie also meant Mosko was forced to trim license fees in order to keep shows on the air (as he famously did with the low-rated fan-favorite Community, which lasted six seasons on NBC and then Yahoo) and to give up an increasing amount of equity in shows to accommodate network-mandated co-productions.

Even as Sony's television business grew to account for more than half its profits in recent years, Mosko often felt his TV division was not given its due within the company, especially compared to the film group (even though Lynton publicly declared Sony would focus on television and elevated Mosko to a chairman role a year ago). In a February 2014 email to then film chief Amy Pascal complaining about his treatment, Mosko wrote, “I’ve always delivered for you guys … and getting thrown under the bus and treated like the help … it’s f—ed up.”

Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that Mosko engaged in a series of strained meetings and conversations with Lynton about his future following the devastating studio hack attributed to North Korea in retaliation for the film satire The Interview. "There wasn't a lot of love between those two guys and there wasn't a lot of respect," one knowledgeable source says of their relationship.

Making matters worse to some at Sony, media stories began suggesting Mosko was the company's bulletproof savior amid struggles at the film division, which replaced Pascal with Tom Rothman in early 2015. The hack revealed Mosko sometimes had a role in planting stories that positioned him and his division favorably. For instance, the morning after the Sony-produced Breaking Bad won outstanding drama series at the 2014 Emmys, Mosko implored Variety and Deadline owner Jay Penske to promote him and SPT rather than the network that aired the series. "Make sure me/we ..spt..get the appropriate credit for breaking bad," he wrote in an email. "We get lost in the AMC of it all. This was our show."

At the same time as Mosko's relationship with Lynton was frayed, Lynton was facing two restless underlings. Van Amburg and Erlicht, whose contracts were set to expire in 2017, according to a source, have been much more heavily involved in the creative aspects of Sony shows in recent years and have been courted by other outlets. Van Amburg in particular was eyed for the top programming job at Turner that eventually went to Kevin Reilly when Lynton wouldn't let Van Amburg out of his contract.

"[Lynton] wanted Zack and Jamie to be great and grow with the company," a source notes. "Michael is coming through on his promises.” Also likely a factor: Mosko, who earned $2.8 million in salary (plus significant bonuses) in 2014, according to documents revealed in the hack, was an expensive executive.

Now Van Amburg and Erlicht are likely to take over some of Mosko's duties, with SPT worldwide networks president Andy Kaplan reporting directly to Lynton. The duo will continue oversee programming and production. And Mosko likely will land at one of the dozens of outlets trying to compete in the hyper-competitive market for premium TV content.

"Since the hack, it just hasn't been the same for Steve," says one source who does business with SPT. "It's probably for the best that he's out."

Updated with comment from Sony spokesperson.