Meyer rises higher at WB

Warner's COO takes over for Daly; Castle Rock's Horn is No. 2

NEW YORK — Time Warner Inc. has promoted Barry Meyer to chairman and CEO of Warner Bros. and named Alan Horn his second-in-command. Monday’s move ended weeks of intense speculation over the succession at the studio, whose co-heads Robert Daly and Terry Semel resigned unexpectedly last month.

The close of Daly and Semel’s nearly 20-year reign fueled anticipation of big changes and belt-tightening at the studio. But Time Warner chairman and CEO Gerald Levin moved quickly Monday to squelch those concerns.

‘A five-year plan’

Levin told Daily Variety his high-flying former chiefs were unfairly “caricatured” and that Warner’s budgets have been and will be under strict control. Levin promised there would be no write-offs of current development.

“We have a five-year plan — a budget for motion pictures at Warner Bros. We know what (the budget) has been and what it’s expected to be, and that’s pretty much what it’s going to be,” Levin said.

Meyer is currently Warner Bros.’ chief operating officer. Horn is chairman and CEO of Castle Rock Entertainment, the mini-studio Time Warner acquired in 1996 through its purchase of Turner Broadcasting. He will become Warner Bros. president and chief operating officer.

The appointments will take effect Oct. 4. Time Warner will appoint a new head of Warner Music as well by that date, Levin said. The music division, along with Warner Bros., will report to Levin through Time Warner president Richard Parsons.

Meyer as liaison

Levin stressed Meyer’s long and successful tenure at Time Warner, which he joined in 1971 as director for business affairs at Warner Bros. Television. He cited Meyer’s deep knowledge of the company and the entertainment industry and said Meyer has frequently served as a liaison between the studio and Time Warner management on company-wide initiatives, such as helping Time Warner’s various businesses to work more closely together.

Levin also said he preferred an internal candidate and that Meyer wanted the job. Another inside candidate, HBO chairman/CEO Jeff Bewkes, was apparently uninterested in the job.

“Meyer really wanted the assignment and I consider him a first-rate human being,” Levin said. “Business decisions are viewed as very calculated, but you also go with your gut.”

Levin also acknowledged he’s “very sensitive to people who have been in the second or third slot and step up to become CEO.”

Industry and Wall Street players pilloried Levin when he moved from his previous position as chief operating officer and vice chairman to the top spot after the 1992 death of studio head Steve Ross.

Now, with Time Warner stock having taken off, he’s seen as a corporate genius.

Wall Street approves

Wall Street applauded the new appointments and couldn’t praise Meyer enough.

“I think he’s done a terrific job building up the TV side of Warner Bros. and he deserves a shot at running the whole thing,” said top media and entertainment fund manager Gordon Crawford.

“I think the world of Barry Meyer. He is one of the most solid, stable, terrific executives in the industry,” added Merrill Lynch analyst Jessica Reif Cohen.

And PaineWebber’s Chris Dixon said, “The days of the television business being separate from the film business are over.” He noted that Disney chief Michael Eisner and DreamWorks’ principal Jeffrey Katzenberg both started out in television.

As for Horn, Levin praised his record at Castle Rock. “I look at the continuity, the quality, the ability to work with filmmakers and the ability to understand the process,” he said.

He and others believe Levin when he says things won’t change much at the studio, at least at first. “The slate won’t change, nor will the long-standing relationships. The Clint Eastwoods of this world are still going to make movies at Warner,” Dixon said.

‘Continuity with change’

But even Levin agreed that Meyer and Horn are “different people, with different experiences. We are emphasizing continuity with change.”

Levin stressed that the decision to name the two was his alone, dismissing talk that Time Warner Vice Chairman Ted Turner, a big fan of TV and a close friend of Horn, was a key factor in the appointments.

“Ted is pleased with the result. But I will tell you that I conducted the process from start to finish,” Levin said.

Time Warner shares closed down $1.87 to $70.12, although analysts said the dip reflected a sour market and not the Warner Bros. news.

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