Frog king will top new Turner group

Exec to combine assets of b'cast, cable companies

AOL Time Warner has restructured its television holdings, elevating Jamie Kellner to oversee a TV networks group that includes the Turner basic cable channels and the WB broadcast weblet.

Kellner, who has served as the WB’s CEO since its formation, will immediately take over as chairman and CEO of a newly expanded Turner Broadcasting. He’ll report to AOL Time Warner co-chief operating officer Bob Pittman and will replace Terence McGuirk, who stays on as vice chairman. McGuirk will assist Kellner with the transition.

Kellner’s oversight now includes networks such as the WB, TBS, TNT, Cartoon Network and CNN, as well as the Atlanta Braves, Atlanta Hawks and the Goodwill Games.

“Grouping these networks under one management team makes enormous sense, given the natural synergies between our broadcast and basic cable networks,” Pittman said. “I believe (Kellner) is the ideal person to continue the aggressive Turner growth strategy begun under Ted (Turner) and Terry. He is a true entrepreneur, with a great blend of creative and business skills.”

Kellner has been charged with finding ways to start sharing advertising, marketing, programming development and Internet resources across network lines. AOL Time Warner’s HBO and Cinemax properties, which don’t rely on ad revenues, aren’t included in the new structure.

“There’s an enormous opportunity that excites me,” Kellner said. “We’re combining a lot of different assets and trying to make them work together.”

Kids stuff

Pokemon, meet the Powerpuff Girls: Kellner said he’ll begin by looking at ways to cross-pollinate the operations of Kids’ WB and the Cartoon Network.

“We could look at the kids arena immediately and get the WB kids sales force and Turner kids sales force and join them at the hip,” Kellner said. “There are a lot of places where we can share programming and promotions at the two kids networks.”

Kellner will also look at ways to carve out dual windows for the networks’ programs. For example, now that they’re under one roof, Kellner could take the second run of a WB series (such as “Popstars”) and put it on TBS or TNT.

“I do believe that is the future,” said Kellner, who earlier this year floated a second window for “Felicity” and “Jack and Jill” but didn’t find any takers.

Too early for downsizing

Kellner said it’s too early to tell whether the newfound Turner efficiencies may necessitate any downsizing; he noted that the WB’s staff is already “fairly thin.”

“We won’t need fewer people if we’re selling the same or more dollars worth of inventory,” Kellner noted.

Pittman wouldn’t comment specifically on further staff cuts at Turner Broadcasting, but pointed to the 400 people recently laid off by CNN and another 100 staffers let go by Turner Broadcasting.

Tuesday’s announcement came just weeks after Kellner set up a succession plan at the WB, officially naming his three lieutenants: Jed Petrick as the net’s newly elevated president-chief operating officer, along with co-entertainment prexys Susanne Daniels and Jordan Levin. Because of those moves, little is expected to change at the WB, other than new synergies with Turner’s ad sales force.

The Petrick promotion was seen by some as the first step in a long-term phaseout at the weblet for Kellner, who also operates the Acme Communications station group. Pittman approached Kellner just last week about taking on this new role.

Kellner’s full-time contract with the net was set to expire in July. He has now signed a new, multiyear pact that keeps him full time at AOL Time Warner (except a half-day-a-week he spends on Acme matters).

“You never know what you’re going to do in your life,” Kellner mused. “Bob’s been a friend for 20 years. I could never leave him high and dry without a real succession plan at the WB.”

Moving to Atlanta

Kellner will move his family to Atlanta, where Turner’s base of operations is located. He’ll also maintain a presence in Los Angeles, where the WB is headquartered.

A lifelong broadcaster, Kellner will now have to take a crash course in cable. The exec isn’t a complete stranger to the cable world, however, having created the Fox Net service and the WB’s group of cable-only outlets in markets 100 and over.

“The advertising side of it, I know the people really well,” he said. “I have had fairly good contact with the cable world, and I do know a lot of the players.”

Still, Kellner has made his name building broadcast networks, having helped launch Fox and the WB.

“It seems like a strange thing for me to do,” Kellner said. Turner “is not a startup business.”

Kellner said he got the blessing from Ted Turner before accepting the job. In an ironic twist, Turner was originally the WB’s most vocal critic and even suggested shutting the network down at one point.

Turner, who has seen his role at Time Warner diminish as AOL takes over, eventually changed his mind and embraced the network.

“Ted was wonderful,” Kellner said. “His was the first call of congratulations I got.”

Rubbing elbows

The four key Turner Network executives with whom Kellner will work are Brad Siegel, president of the Turner Entertainment Networks; Tom Johnson, chairman of CNN News Group; Betty Cohen, president of the Cartoon Network; and Phil Kent, president of the CNN News Group.

Pittman and Kellner will cast a critical eye on the Turner Networks, many of which, analysts say, have lost their focus in the last couple of years. The ratings of Turner’s big three –TBS, TNT and CNN — have faltered recently. Only Cartoon Network has staved off a ratings erosion.

TNT suffered a major blow three years ago when ESPN outbid it for a Sunday-night package of NFL games. The loss of the NFL, coupled with the declining ratings of National Basketball Assn. games, which run on TNT twice a week during the season, have knocked TNT out of the No. 1 position in primetime in the last two years.

McGuirk’s situation

A Turner spokeswoman said McGuirk, a 28-year Turner veteran, will be available to help Kellner during the transition period. McGuirk will cut back on his work load dramatically, the spokeswoman said, which will allow him to spend more time on civic activities in Atlanta and on rearing his four teenage daughters.

Last August, after the resignation of CNN/U.S. president Rick Kaplan, CNN News Group reorganized its exec structure, giving more control to Steven Heyer, president and chief operating officer of Turner Broadcasting, who has resigned. Published sources say Heyer will take a top job at Coca Cola.

McGuirk reportedly triggered the exec reshuffling at CNN. The changes came as Time Warner attempted to spruce up its operations in advance of its merger with AOL.

At the time, Heyer reportedly pushed for Phil Kent to be named to the post of president and chief operating officer of CNN News Group. Insiders say Heyer’s departure will not affect Kent’s role at the 24-hour news net.

News insiders were abuzz that Kellner, who has never worked in news, would have oversight of CNN. But Kellner said that he’ll be hands-off when it comes to programming decisions at CNN. Instead, he’ll defer to Johnson on editorial matters.

“McGuirk’s focus was always the business side of things. He wasn’t involved with editorial decisions at CNN,” said a source. “Johnson continuing to be in charge reflects that journalism is still going to be a top priority.”

CNN insiders are hopeful that the marketing and cross-promotions CNN would enjoy under the TBS umbrella could help drive the network’s ratings. CNN, once dominant, is facing powerful competition from Fox News Channel and MSNBC. Last week, in primetime, Fox News beat CNN in viewers and adults 25-54 and tied the veteran cable net in households.

Kellner served as president and chief operating officer at Fox from 1986 through 1993; he then formed the WB in 1993 with Time Warner and Tribune; the netlet launched in January 1995.

(Paula Bernstein, John Dempsey and Josef Adalian contributed to this report.)

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