Susan Rovner Exits Warner Bros. for Top NBCUniversal Entertainment Programming Post

Susan Rovner
Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images

The Warner Bros. TV exec, who was considered the heir apparent to Peter Roth, will report directly to Mark Lazarus and be on equal footing with Frances Berwick, who sets the business strategy for the entertainment portfolio.

NBCUniversal has found its top entertainment programming executive.

Following a lengthy public search, Warner Bros. TV president Susan Rovner has been tapped to oversee a programming portfolio that includes streamer Peacock, basic cable networks USA, Syfy, Bravo Oxygen and E! as well as broadcast network NBC. Rovner, who was considered the heir apparent to replace Peter Roth as chairman at Warner Bros. TV Group, negotiated an early exit from her contract to take the NBCU job. Her departure now leaves Warners without a next in line for Roth, whose deal expires next year. It's unclear what Rovner's formal title will be as NBCU has yet to solidify those following the company's reorganization last month.

Reps for NBCUniversal declined comment Monday. On Wednesday, Warners confirmed Rovner will officially exit the studio on Oct. 2. Read her memo to Warners staff, below.

Reporting to NBCU TV and Streaming chairman Mark Lazarus, Rovner, sources note, will be on the same footing as Frances Berwick though the incoming exec is said to have asked for a larger role within NBCU. The former Lifestyle Networks chief was promoted Aug. 6 as part of a major restructuring and now oversees a considerably larger portfolio for the conglomerate. While her new title has yet to be solidified, Berwick will set the broader tone for the entertainment networks, budgets, research and marketing. Berwick will also develop and implement strategies for which content is picked up and how to best launch it across its multiple brands.

As for Rovner, she will be charged with leading centralized content groups covering scripted, unscripted, alternative and late-night. As part of its shift from a vertically aligned company into a horizontal structure, NBCU is expected to reorganize staff by genre rather than by networks. That means that an exec working on unscripted fare at Bravo could soon be involved with a larger portfolio of the same genre for multiple NBCU networks as well. The strategy is the latest effort to unify development for a larger portfolio.

A major round of layoffs is expected to come as part of NBCU's new structure, which is being overseen by Lazarus and NBCU CEO Jeff Shell. As part of the new hierarchy, NBC Entertainment chairman Paul Telegdy unceremoniously exited the company. His exit arrived less than a week after NBC launched an investigation into claims that Telegdy fostered a toxic culture, claims of which were detailed extensively by The Hollywood Reporter. His duties are now being folded into the entertainment programming position. It marks the first time ever that NBC has not had its own dedicated entertainment chairman. The broadcaster becomes the latest linear network to have its oversight folded into an executive with a wider scope as the TV industry better positions itself for the streaming era and looks to trim costs amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. The realignment is also expected to create millions in cost savings, with redundancies among programming, marketing and scheduling divisions expected to be eliminated in a bid to create a more unified and leaner company. It is a similar approach Shell put in place in May with his news division.

Rovner's hiring follows a public search in which sources say NBCU leadership was focused on recruiting a woman and person of color for the position. Netflix vp local language Bela Bajaria — who incidentally was pushed out at studio Universal TV in 2016 — turned down the job. Universal TV president Pearlena Igbokwe — who replaced Bajaria — was also floated for the post. Much as Rovner was next in line to inherit Warners from Roth, Igbokwe is considered the heir apparent for a considerably larger job running NBCU's combined studios should Bonnie Hammer opt to retire next year when her current contract expires next year. Netflix vp originals Channing Dungey, a former ABC Entertainment president, is also said to have passed on the role. Other executives who were considered for the position included former HBO Max and TNT, TBS and TruTV programmer Kevin Reilly (who was recently ousted as part of WarnerMedia's own reorganization), ViacomCBS chief creative officer David Nevins, Hulu senior vp scripted originals Craig Erwich and Bill McGoldrick, with the latter already overseeing programming for Peacock, USA and Syfy. It's unclear how Rovner's new role will impact McGoldrick, who is well-liked and was personally selected for the role when Hammer oversaw the streamer.

Still to be determined is the future of NBC alternative head Meredith Ahr, who sources allege played a key role alongside Telegdy in fostering a toxic culture at the network. Rovner is expected to make that decision. NBCU is continuing its investigation into Telegdy and, under Lazarus, launched a second and broader probe into the company's overall culture.

Rovner, for her part, comes to NBCU after more than a 20-year run at Warners. After joining the studio in 1998 as a drama exec, she rose through the ranks while developing hits including The O.C., Everwood, Gossip Girl, Fringe, The Vampire Diaries and Supernatural, among others. She was promoted to co-president (alongside Brett Paul) of Warner Horizon Scripted in 2014, launching cable and streaming series including Animal Kingdom, David Makes Man, Queen Sugar, You and Pennyworth, among others. Last year, she and her longtime business-focused collaborator Paul were promoted to co-presidents of Warner Bros. TV, where they took over day-to-day business for the studio, reporting to Roth, who was later promoted to chairman of the larger WBTV Group. Rovner — who has close relationships with showrunners including super-producer Greg Berlanti and Josh Schwartz (Gossip Girl), among countless others — and Paul had oversight of 60 scripted originals as they took on some of the duties Roth had held on to for years.

In August, following a round of 600 layoffs as part of a larger company-wide consolidation, Warners merged all of its studio operations, including Horizon, under Roth with Paul and Rovner given the day-to-day reigns. As part of the shuffle, drama head Clancy Collins White was upped to a new role overseeing all scripted development, reporting directly to Rovner. The move was considered by many industry insiders to be laying the groundwork for Rovner's pending ascension to take over for Roth. The latter has been with the studio for more than two decades and, in a marker of his success, has overseen 32 primetime scripted series that have reached the 100-episode milestone.

NBCUniversal and WarnerMedia are the latest Hollywood conglomerates to undergo major restructurings as the global pandemic has accelerated an era of unprecedented changes in the entertainment business. Both companies are looking to more centralized leadership to oversee content across a larger purview rather than network-focused siloed divisions. "It's the great reckoning now," Reilly told THR days after he was swept out alongside Bob Greenblatt. "This has been a decade-plus of the legacy system bound to quarterly profits generated by the same paradigms. We've only recently begun pivoting meaningfully into the new era. Now with the pandemic as an accelerant, there will not be one corner or sector that will sit with their feet up thinking, 'I'm good!' "

Here's Rovner's internal memo to staff:

To My WBTV Family,

I first entered the halls of Warner Bros. Television back in 1998. I'm not sure I could have ever imagined all of the amazing series we would go on to create and produce, all of the incredible showrunners, producers and talent we would work with, and all of the friendships that would be made over these years. Together we have produced 1000s of episodes of television that have connected with audiences all over the world. Each and every one of you have inspired me and I am so proud of what we have accomplished together. These last 22 years were extraordinary and I am filled with enormous gratitude.

I wanted to share with all of you that my last day with WBTV will be October 2. I am excited to start a new chapter in my career and wish you all the very best. WBTV will always hold a special place in my heart.

With gratitude,

Updated Sept. 9 with Rovner's memo to staff.