Net ups Ancier, Levin to top posts

This article was updated at 9:02p.m.

The WB is turning to Garth Ancier and Jordan Levin to replace outgoing chairman/CEO Jamie Kellner.

Ancier has been tapped to serve as chairman of the Frog, while Levin is in line to become CEO. Jed Petrick, who was handed a host of new responsibilities last year, will remain as prexy and COO of the network.

Kellner had previously announced plans to leave his post at the end of the 2003-04 season, revealing his intentions as he stepped down from his role heading the Time Warner cable empire (Daily Variety, Feb. 19).

Effective immediately, Ancier and Levin will serve as co-chairman and co-CEO, respectively; they’ll assume full responsibilities upon Kellner’s official exit in May 2004.

Ancier and Levin will report directly to Barry Meyer, chairman and CEO of Warner Bros. Entertainment, who announced the changes with Kellner late Monday after Daily Variety posted the story on its Web site.

As part of the shuffle, Petrick will now report to Levin, as will marketing toppers Bob Bibb and Lew Goldstein.

Levin — who at 36 is one of the youngest TV network CEOs ever — will handle the day-to-day business aspects of running the net, while Ancier is expected to take a big-picture approach at the company.

Levin will continue to perform the day-to-day duties of entertainment prexy of the WB; he has no plans to replace himself in the post. Ancier will remain a consultant to Turner Broadcasting, focusing on CNN.

Bruce Rosenblum, exec VP of the Warner Bros. TV Group, will work with Meyer overseeing operations of the Frog.

Meyer was unavailable for comment, but Kellner said the new exec structure should ensure stability at the net he created.

“The people who are on the ground today at the WB are for the most part the people who’ve been doing most of the work (to build the net),” he said, noting that Meyer had asked him to come up with a succession plan.

While Kellner no longer has a financial stake in the WB, his emotional investment in the company made engineering a smooth transition important.

“I care deeply about the WB. I don’t want to see us stumble,” he said.

Kellner said splitting the chairman and CEO positions mirrors the direction many major companies are taking as they move forward.

“If you think of Barry sort of as the board of directors, this is where corporate America is heading in order to create a system of checks and balances,” he said.

“There’s an opportunity here for Jordan to grow into becoming both a business man and a creative exec, while Garth continues to be the elder statesman of the company,” Kellner added.

In a sense, the announcement won’t have a drastic impact on how the WB is already being managed. With Kellner easing his way out of the network’s day-to-day operations, Levin and Petrick — with input from Ancier –have already effectively been steering the ship.

“There’s so much stability here that I don’t see this as a change of course, a change of direction, a change of team,” Levin said.

Ancier said the trio will work with a team and not make unilateral decisions without consulting with one another.

“Each of us will meet and discuss everything together,” Ancier said.

Despite Kellner’s announcement earlier this year, Levin said the exec’s departure hadn’t created political infighting in an attempt to fill the post’s vacuum.

“I think everyone recognized that this would be filled internally,” he said. “No one felt that, whoever had the post, the tradition would not continue of a network that operates as a team.”

Indeed, unlike webs such as CBS — which boasts a clear-cut head of state in Leslie Moonves — the WB has always been run much more by committee.

Even with Kellner at the helm, execs such as Petrick, Levin, Ancier and former entertainment prexy Susanne Daniels had major say over the network. And particularly in the network’s early years, even department heads found they had a hand in the WB’s overall direction.

“There’s a real kitchen cabinet that surrounds the leadership of this company,” Levin said.

As a result, Levin said he didn’t see a need to name a new entertainment president underneath him.

For his part, Ancier used a “Star Wars” analogy to describe his role at the network as an elder statesman.

“I see myself as the old Jedi knight who has experience in programming, but will be guiding the man behind the good side of the force,” he said.

Ancier, who had been splitting his time in recent months between the WB and the Turner nets, returns full time to the Frog just as the net begins to experience some growing pains.

“It’s an opportunity to go back to the WB at a time when the network is maturing from a startup to become a more mature business,” he said.

By that, Ancier said the network –which has made a business out of steering clear of the major broadcast webs by appealing to a younger, niche demographic — must go more aggressively after the big guys.

“We need to learn to be more competitive economically with rival networks,” he said. “We want the WB to be a place where, if you make a show for people under 35 in this country, we want to be your first stop.”

Ancier, Levin and Petrick all joined the WB in 1994 as part of the net’s initial management team, and prior to its January 1995 launch.

Levin has risen the furthest, having joined the web as its first head of comedy development and current programming. He had been entertainment prexy since June 2001.

Ancier, meanwhile, joined the web as entertainment president, departing in 1999 to take the top NBC programming job. He reaffiliated with the WB in 2001 when he took the Turner job under Kellner.

As for Petrick, the exec was the WB’s original head of media sales, and named its first president/COO in January 2001. Along with Ancier, he worked with Kellner during the early days of Fox.

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