Sony Pictures Entertainment has concluded the realignment of its TV divisions as Columbia TriStar TV, reassigning a number of key staffers but continuing to position Columbia and TriStar as separate production banners.Helene Michaels, former VP, series development, for TriStar, has received a major promotion in the new hierarchy, becoming exec VP, programming, for the combined operation, a newly created position reporting directly to CTT prexy Jon Feltheimer. As anticipated (Daily Variety, Feb. 15), Eric Tannenbaum and Jeff Wachtel — former exec VPs at TriStar TV and Columbia Pictures TV, respectively — will continue to oversee those two wings, working under a management team of Feltheimer and senior exec VP Andrew J. Kaplan. As a sign of their creative separation, the two units will maintain distinct producer rosters and develop programs independently, maintaining the sense of two selling arms despite the one, over-arching umbrella. “I still believe the two-label approach is very viable,” said Feltheimer, adding that the dual structure and relatively small number of jobs lost should “dispel the concept that this was just being done to reduce overhead.” Feltheimer, formerly president of TriStar TV, was placed in charge of the combined Columbia and TriStar operations two months ago in a sudden move that prompted the exit of CPT prexy Scott Siegler from his post. Most observers assumed a key factor in the change involved reducing costs — as Warner Bros. did by combining its two production divisions — but insiders insist that Sony Pictures Entertainment TV Group chief Mel Harris simply wanted to centralize production under Feltheimer. CTT officials declined to quantify the number of staffers ultimately let go in the wake of the merger, which was immediately followed by the pink-slipping of a handful of staffers in publicity, business affairs and other support areas. Feltheimer noted that the company had managed to move personnel around without laying them off, assigning some personnel to syndication arm Columbia TriStar TV Distribution, now operated separately from the production unit. Though Wachtel and Tannenbaum’s areas remain separate, Michaels will cut across divisional lines, overseeing all current series (including Columbia shows like “Phenom” and TriStar’s “Mad About You” and “The Nanny”) while developing new series for cable and syndication — with particular emphasis on generating spinoff series from established shows and the Columbia TriStar library. Feltheimer cited MTM or the old TAT/Embassy TV, entities that created spinoffs from shows like “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” or “All in the Family” almost as their principal form of development. Jeanie Bradley, previously senior VP of programming at Columbia, will assume a similar post at CTT reporting to Michaels, while Jackie Lyons becomes VP, programming, having been TriStar’s VP of creative affairs. Several other TriStar and Col creative execs have received new titles. Helen Verno becomes exec VP, movies and miniseries, overseeing all longform production at Columbia TriStar, with former Columbia VP Deborah Service holding the same CTT title, now reporting to Verno. Mindy Schultheis has been promoted a notch to senior VP, comedy development, at Columbia, reporting to Wachtel, with Michael Hanel as VP of comedy. Jeff Kline and Sarah Timberman, VP and director of drama development, respectively, also continue under Wachtel. Steve Tann, manager of series programming at TriStar, still reports to Tannenbaum. Both Tannenbaum and Michaels worked with Feltheimer at New World.
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