Warner Bros.' Barry Meyer Rejects Contract Extension (Exclusive)

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Barry Meyer, left, and Jeff Bewkes

Jeff Bewkes' offer to stay beyond 2013 is said to have been rebuffed as three insiders scramble to run Hollywood's biggest studio.

This story first appeared in the July 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter.

It's a game that has continued to fascinate Hollywood: Who will run Warner Bros.?

The succession issue is now back in play as Time Warner chief executive Jeffrey Bewkes recently asked Warner Bros. chairman and CEO Barry Meyer to remain on the job beyond his scheduled December 2013 departure date. The veteran executive declined to extend his tenure, a knowledgeable source tells THR. (A Time Warner spokesman disputes this.)

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If so, the decision would start a countdown for Bewkes to resolve the leadership question at Hollywood's most prolific film and television studio -- an issue that has loomed since the Time Warner CEO decided in 2009 to renew the contracts of Meyer, 68, and Alan Horn, then-Warner Bros. president and COO, for only two years. In September 2010, Bewkes "kicked the can down the road," as one source with ties to the studio puts it, by extending Meyer's contract for another two years. (Horn was not renewed; he now runs the Disney studio.)

Having secured Meyer's services for another two years, Time Warner created an "office of the president" that is shared by the three inside contenders to succeed him: Bruce Rosenblum, president of the Warner Bros. Television Group; film studio chief Jeff Robinov; and home entertainment boss Kevin Tsujihara. But that has not put an end to the speculation about succession, and sources say the uncertainty has caused morale problems on the lot.

According to one well-connected source, Bewkes plans to give the top job to Rosenblum. But the Time Warner spokesman denies that. "Barry's contract runs through the end of 2013," he says. "We have no plans to announce anything related to succession until sometime next year." Another source says Rosenblum is Meyer's choice, while Bewkes' preference would be to keep the current trio in place and find an outsider to fill the top job.

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Elevating Rosenblum would reflect the importance of television to Time Warner. Meyer took the top job at Warner Bros. after running the TV division, as did his predecessor, Bob Daly. Warners is a leading supplier to the networks, with hit shows including CBS' The Big Bang Theory, ABC's The Middle and NBC's The Voice (through its Warner Horizon unit). Rosenblum also has upped his profile in Hollywood recently by becoming chairman and CEO of the Television Academy, which oversees the Emmy Awards. But Rosenblum, sometimes characterized as divisive, would have to overcome stiff resistance in certain studio corners. "He's very ambitious, and it hasn't gone unnoticed," says a Warner veteran.

Robinov, to his credit, has presided over the mega-blockbuster Batman and Hangover franchises. The latest Batman installment, The Dark Knight Rises, is expected to smash box-office records when it opens July 20. Tsujihara, while considered a long shot, heads the most digital-oriented aspect of the studio, which could position him to preside over an evolving business model.

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One important investor says he has for some time expected that Rosenblum -- named to his current post in September 2005 after 16 years at the studio -- would get the job, in part because Robinov is not as buttoned-down and at ease in a Wall Street setting and because Tsujihara lacks experience in content creation. "Bruce runs a billion-dollar content business," says the investor. "Who would you pick? I've always assumed it was going to be him."

Email: Kim.Masters@thr.com

Twitter: @KimMasters