Less than a month after unveiling WB's prime-time lineup to advertisers in New York, network CEO Jordan Levin has been stripped of his post. Chairman Garth Ancier, who shared oversight of WB with Levin, has emerged as the top dog, reporting to Barry Meyer, chairman and CEO of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
In one of the more entertaining news releases explaining the whacking of a network suit, Warner Bros. Entertainment said yesterday that Levin "has decided to shed his network executive duties instead of modifying them and becoming president of entertainment" at WB.
Translation: They offered to demote him back to the job he had a year ago; he told them to buzz off -- politely, no doubt.
So instead, Levin, who joined WB when it was founded a decade ago and rose through the ranks, is heading to that great grazing ground for whacked network executives known as "independent production," in his case with an overhead deal at Warner Bros. TV.
Meyer wasted no time dismantling the organizational structure that WB founder Jamie Kellner put in place last September to take over when he retired, which Kellner did just last month.
In September, Kellner announced he'd share the chairman title with Ancier and the CEO title with Levin until he bowed out. (The first to go, WB president and chief operating officer Jed Petrick, resigned three months after being told he would report to Levin and would get the president's title but no additional responsibilities.)
"This is a win-win for all of us," Meyer said in yesterday's announcement; Levin must've slipped his mind when Meyer okayed that quote for the PR department.
"Taking a nontraditional organizational route was a noble effort but having a sole leader is simply more productive, efficient and effective," he continued.
While the TV industry speculated Levin was taking the fall for WB's less than great season that wrapped last month, both Levin and Ancier insisted it's not about the network's performance; it's about Meyer.
"I think Barry wanted a more conventional management structure that didn't have some of the ambiguity that WB has been famous for in terms of our 'kitchen cabinet' approach to things," Levin told The TV Column yesterday, adding "it's where they have their comfort level."
"For 10 years [WB] has been largely devoid of the politics that take up so much time at other companies; it's what's been so attractive about the network."
Added Ancier: "We always worked well together; the company felt it was more comfortable with one person running the show; it's a more traditional structure for these companies. A lot is how Barry Meyer felt about how he was able to manage -- he's all of our bosses, after all."
Ancier said he'd hoped Levin, who worked for him at Disney before Ancier recruited him to WB, would agree to return to the post of entertainment division president.
Now, industry watchers say, the company is talking to producer David Janollari about taking that position. Janollari, a former Warner Bros. Television executive, more recently has been a producer partnered with Robert Greenblatt. Their credits include HBO's "Six Feet Under" and, ironically, two UPN series: "One on One" and "Eve." Greenblatt recently took the job of president of entertainment at pay cable network Showtime.
Levin said he was taken by surprise by the timing.
"I would have thought they would have made the change before [unveiling the new schedule], and before the shows were chosen, but they didn't," he said.
But, Ancier noted of the timing, "what's different between this and other times you've seen changes like this is, none of the shows on the fall schedule are there without my blessing, so there are no orphans here. . . . I think what Barry and [Warner Bros. Television Executive Vice President] Bruce [Rosenblum] felt was 'this is as much Garth's schedule as Jordan's.' They're not making any orphans. This is the time when development starts for next fall; if you do not do it now and make a clean break . . . you end up with a stutter-step for the next season. To me the timing makes sense -- I was surprised it was what they wanted to do."
Levin, in departing, continued to pitch for the network: "We have some real momentum going here; we had a good second quarter, a good summer launch [of 'Summerland'] out of the gate and some good programs [for next season]. I'd hate for what happened to me to end up taking the focus away from the work that everybody here does."