Roberts said to be leading contender to replace Litvack

The Frog is kissing another veteran exec goodbye.

John Litvack, the WB’s exec VP of current programming and scheduling, is ankling the net after eight years.

News, which comes barely a month after the unexpected ouster of network co-topper Jordan Levin, came as something of a surprise: As recently as last week, new Frog entertainment chief David Janollari had said no major exec changes were planned.

Indeed, during the Frog’s TV Critics Assn. sesh last week, Litvack was called upon by WB chairman Garth Ancier and Janollari to answer obscure questions about storylines and characters that had stumped the two toppers. Tuesday, Janollari told Daily Variety Litvack’s ankling had not been anticipated.

WB senior VP of current programming Michael Roberts is said to be a leading contender to replace Litvack, though Janollari said no decision had been made.

Litvack, considered the dean of current programming execs, told WB staffers of his departure at Tuesday’s staff meeting. Litvack read from a prepared statement as he delivered the news to staffers, received a standing ovation from the assembled crowd — and then walked out.

It’s unclear if Litvack quit or was pushed, though several people familiar with the situation said it was a combination of both.

“It’s a shocking one-two punch, especially for the folks who’ve been there for a while,” one producer on a WB skein said of the departures of Levin and Litvack. WB founder Jamie Kellner also formally cut his ties to the net this spring.

Talking to WB staffers Tuesday morning, Litvack said he met with Ancier and Janollari last week “and told them I felt the time was right for me to leave and explore some opportunities that have been offered to me.”

Moving back into series production might be a possibility, one insider hinted.

“I have loved my seven years at the WB and I have accomplished everything that I came here to do,” Litvack added. “I have helped build a successful network and now it is time for new challenges.”

Ancier, who was unavailable for comment Tuesday, said via a press release that it was impossible to “overstate John’s contribution to the success of the WB. It is no coincidence that John’s arrival coincided with our greatest creative run at the network.”

In addition to “Smallville,” Litvack had a hand in shaping Frog staples such as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Dawson’s Creek,” “Felicity,” “Charmed,” “7th Heaven” and “Everwood.”

Litvack’s producing background — he was co-exec producer on “Hill Street Blues” at one point — and his hands-on approach to his job made him popular with many of the Frog’s top producers. At the same time, his style made enemies in other quarters, particularly among some agents and managers who felt Litvack, in an attempt to maintain the quality of Frog skeins, was too tough on scribes or unwilling to work with writers he didn’t feel were right for the net.

“Smallville” exec producer Al Gough said he and partner Miles Millar have had nothing but positive experiences working with Litvack.

“What John brought to the job is the fact that he’s been on the opposite side of the fence,” Gough said. “He was never a network suit. He was a creative guy stuck in a suit. In the dark hours of working on episode 14, he’s the guy you could call. He really was passionate about the shows he worked on.”

Litvack joined the Frog in 1997, having previously served as senior VP network TV for Walt Disney Television, where he worked for a time with Levin. At the Mouse, Litvack helped develop early Frog fave “Smart Guy” and ABC’s “Boy Meets World.”

From 1986-89, he was at MTM Television, where he developed dramas for the studio and work on “Hill Street.”

Before that, he was VP of current for NBC and VP of drama for NBC Prods.; he also spent seven years helming CBS sudsers such as “As the World Turns” and “Guiding Light.”

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