Ancier alone at the top after Frog's Levin ankles post
This article was updated at 7:56 p.m.
In a summer stunner, Jordan Levin has ankled his gig as chief exec of the WB — and producer David Janollari could be headed to the Frog.
Shake-up went down Monday morning after Levin was asked to take a reduced role at the net, reporting to WB chairman Garth Ancier. Levin instead decided to leave.
Ancier will now oversee all of the Frog’s day-to-day operations and will name a president of entertainment to take over Levin’s programming duties.
Insiders said Janollari (“Six Feet Under”) has been offered the gig and is expected to seal the deal as soon as this week. A WB spokesman declined comment on the matter of Janollari.
Levin, who still had several years left on his contract, will set up his own production shingle at Warner Bros. Television — for now.
Surprise move comes just weeks after Levin officially took over the CEO title. He’d previously been serving as co-CEO, sharing the title with network founder Jamie Kellner, since last September.
Levin also leaves the WB just as he was about to celebrate his 10-year anniversary at the net, having joined in 1994 (before its January 1995 launch).
“The thing about the WB is that it’s synonymous with Jordan,” said UTA partner Sue Naegle. “You think of the WB, you think of him. You think of him dancing at the upfronts, of betting money on great young talent, of not being too cool to say, ‘I love TV.’ He’s just an unbelievably passionate executive.”
Levin had been Kellner’s hand-picked successor as CEO, while Ancier had assumed Kellner’s chairman title.
Putting stamp on net
But with Kellner now retired from the net, Warner Bros. chairman-CEO Barry Meyer may have been eager to put his stamp on the Frog — and that included dismantling the dual-reporting structure.
“I think they had a vision of how they wanted the network to operate,” Ancier said. “The idea of the two of us running it together, which was fine with me, was not the way they wanted to go forward.”
Complicating matters: Levin was chosen heir to the Kellner throne back when the WB still fell under the Turner umbrella, meaning Meyer had no part in determining the net’s management structure. Insiders believe Meyer was not happy with inheriting a pre-determined management structure, but gave it time before making a change.
In a statement, Meyer called the corporate shuffle a “win-win” and argued that “taking a nontraditional organizational route was a noble effort, but having a sole leader is simply more productive, efficient and effective.”
Levin first got a sense that change was in the air Friday night while attending an engagement party for uber lawyer Ernie Del. Several of the key players in the shuffle were also there, including Janollari (who’s repped by Del, as is Levin) and Warner Bros. exec VP Bruce Rosenblum, who handles day-to-day corporate responsibility for the WB.
Levin could tell by their body language that something may have been in the works. And indeed, Meyer informed Levin of the change on Sunday — while Levin was recovering from Saturday’s KROQ Weenie Roast concert.
“I’m disappointed only so far in that it really is a family here,” Levin said. “WB is not political, compared to other companies, and I care about so many people here. We’ve all grown together, in terms of what we’ve built as a network, and also our personal lives. There are bonds here that are very strong that I will miss.”
Not all are convinced Levin’s departure was all about Meyer putting his stamp on the network. One industry insider noted that Ancier is just as much, if not more, of a Kellner loyalist — and yet, in the end, Ancier is getting more power as a result of the restructuring.
“If you keep your nose clean and do your job, Barry doesn’t care about how somebody came up the ranks,” the insider said.
Levin’s standing wasn’t helped by the WB’s performance last season. The Frog finished the year down 11% among total viewers, stumbling particularly at the start of the season — when much-hyped drama “Tarzan” was DOA and issues with the Nielsen sample appeared to hit the WB especially hard.
Hurt by ‘Fearless’
WB also wasn’t helped by the collapse of Jerry Bruckheimer-produced drama “Fearless,” which never aired after Bruckheimer and Warner Bros. TV pulled the plug.
Still, the net started to see some momentum in the second half of the season, thanks to the emergence of frosh drama “One Tree Hill.” WB also managed to keep its upfront losses to a minimum this month, posting $675 million (down from $710 million), and has seen a promising returns for summer drama “Summerland.”
“I was buoyed by the success of ‘Summerland,’ felt great about the upfront and feel positive about the way many of these new shows have been embraced,” Levin said.
Levin will take some time off before plotting his next move, which may or may not include aggressively producing under his new deal. Having straddled the line between the creative and business sides as WB chief exec, Levin said he will be on the lookout for exec positions similar in nature.
“I look forward to being part of a team big or small trying to do something different within the mainstream of our business,” Levin said. “I’d like to do something I believe in and love and satisfies my curiosity. Right now I’m not sure what that is, but there’s so much change in this business.”
As for Janollari, the gig would mark a return for the exec to the Time Warner fold. Before he partnered with Bob Greenblatt in 1997 to form their production company, Janollari spent several years as a top exec at Warner Bros. TV.
Now that Greenblatt heads up entertainment at Showtime, it’s unclear what a Janollari departure would mean to the future of the Greenblatt-Janollari Studio (which also produces UPN’s “One on One”).
Levin serves as president of the Hollywood Radio and Television Society — and he’s not the first to be pushed from his job while president of the org, leading Levin to joke that being head of HRTS “is the equivalent of the Sports Illustrated cover curse.”
Exec joined the WB as its first head of comedy development and current programming, rising fast to VP of development, then exec VP of programming and co-president of entertainment (with Suzanne Daniels).
Levin became sole entertainment prexy in June 2001, holding that title until being named co-CEO last September. He joined the Frog from Walt Disney/Touchstone TV, where he served as director of comedy development.
“This is a tough, emotional day,” said Ancier, who first hired Levin at Disney and later brought him onboard at the WB.