Michael Jay Solomon is stepping down as president of Warner Bros. Intl. Television Distribution after five years and plans to set up his own international communications company.
Solomon will remain affiliated with Warner Bros. as a consultant through June to supervise the transition. Insiders suggest Jeff Schlesinger, currently Solomon’s No. 2, will take over as the division’s prexy.
“I have achieved my mission and my challenge at WarnerBros., which was to make my division the undisputed leader in its field … Today there are many exciting opportunities in international telecommunications, from cable and satellite-dedicated services to a wide variety of distribution and production options around the world that didn’t exist as recently as a year ago,” Solomon said in a statement released Friday.
He said he had been thinking of leaving for about three years and that he basically was happier as an entrepreneur, under his own rather than the corporate structure of others.
“I miss having my own shop,” he said, adding that Warners top brass had tried to persuade him to stay over the last month, when contract renewal time came up. He furnished no details about his new company, except to say that he may have joint venture partners from around the world.
“Although we regret losing an executive of Michael’s caliber, with the vision , management skills and experience that he has brought to Warner Bros. Television, we are excited for him about the prospects of his new venture,” WB chairman/CEO Robert Daly and president/chief operating officer Terry Semel said in a joint statement.
While rumors that Solomon might leave the company began circulating two weeks ago during the National Assn. of Television Program Executives confab in Miami, the announcement came as something of a surprise. Typically, the international divisions of the majors and other key TV distributors are stable by Hollywood standards.
Solomon was a well-known fixture on the international TV circuit, in charge of the heftiest catalog of films and TV series among the majors and the overseer of a far-flung network of Warners offices and sales agents around the world.
Among his innovations, Solomon developed the Warner Hour, a programming block offering different product in 40 countries around the globe, and helped create HBO Ole, the Latin version of the domestic cable paybox.
He also spearheaded an international program ratings system, a concept that hadn’t existed outside the U.S. In addition, Warner Bros. is the only major studio to co-produce and distribute the Spanish-language telenovella worldwide, a practice Solomon initiated.
Solomon also enjoyed a reputation as being brash and outspoken on the issues affecting the TV biz around the world — so much so that Soloman occasionally had run-ins with Warners button-down corporate brass. In the last few years he has been a ubiquitous moderator of panels and seminars at various international confabs, such as the Mip-TV and Monte Carlo market.
A native of New York, Solomon began his career in distribution in l956 at age 18, loading film reels onto trucks for United Artists. In the early ’60s he sold theatrical features out of Panama and then Columbia for UA — off the back of a burro, according to legend. Within two years he became the youngest field manager in motion picture history, heading the UA office in Lima, Peru.
After a stint with MCA Latin America, Solomon founded Telepictures Corp., and in l985, as chairman and CEO, merged Telepictures with Lorimar to form Lorimar Telepictures Corp.
In early l989, Lorimar Telepictures was acquired by Warner Bros., with Solomon appointed president of the international television distribution division.