Downsizing reps part of larger cost-cutting campaign

The cost-cutting ax hit the WB on Friday as several high-level Frog execs were shown the door.

All told, more than 40 positions have been eliminated at the network, including open slots and jobs cut through attrition. Top execs handed pinkslips included comedy co-head Tracey Pakosta, casting chief Kathleen Letterie and program scheduling topper Rusty Mintz.

WB staffers had been anticipating cuts all week; the mood at the net’s Burbank-based Warner Bros. Ranch headquarters was grim Friday as the chopping began.

The network downsizing reps part of a larger campaign at Warner Bros. to aggressively cut costs in anticipation of a slowdown in growth next year and under pressure by corporate raider Carl Icahn (Daily Variety, Nov. 2). Frog cuts are part of the 400 positions Warner Bros. is eliminating globally.

Some of the cuts took place a few weeks ago, as the Frog quietly let most of its Kids’ WB team go. The children’s operation has seen its hours decline from 19 in its heyday to just five come January, when syndicated fare takes over the Frog’s afternoon block.

Kids’ WB was the hardest hit, followed by the net’s marketing department, which employs the largest percentage of the WB’s approximately 300 staffers. The net’s small-market cable distribution arm, the WB 100+ Station Group, also saw several positions eliminated, as did the Frog’s programming department.

“The WB, like every other division of Warner Bros., has been asked to do a top-to-bottom analysis of our operations and make sure that we are operating as efficiently as we possibly can,” said the WB chairman Garth Ancier. “There were many cost savings that we identified and unfortunately, there are instances where some positions were eliminated.”

That included three of the net’s most veteran execs. Letterie had been with the WB since its 1994 inception and is credited for discovering much of the hot, young talent who turned the net into a youth magnet — including the casts of “Dawson’s Creek,” “Felicity” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

Prior to the Frog, where she most recently served as exec VP of talent and casting, Letterie ran her own casting company. Going forward, Letterie’s lieutenants, Tess Sanchez and Claudia Ramsumair, will run the department.

Pakosta had been with the WB since 1997, first joining as former entertainment prexy Susanne Daniels’ assistant. She had co-run the comedy department since 2001, first with Mike Clements and more recently with Keith Cox (following the merger of the Frog’s comedy and alternative divisions this fall).

Cox will now solely run the comedy/alternative department.

As for Mintz, the well-respected senior VP of program scheduling and acquisitions joined the Frog just before its January 1995 launch and took over as head of scheduling in 1997. WB Entertainment prexy David Janollari will now officially oversee most of those tasks, supported by Mintz’s No. 2, Jay Potashnick.

Cuts come as the WB enters a pivotal pilot season. Its longest-running anchor, “7th Heaven,” will depart the sked at the end of this season, and another Frog staple, “Charmed,” is also expected to end its run. With the heat now on cross-town rival UPN (which edged the WB out this November sweeps in both adults 18-34 and viewers), the pressure is on to develop the net’s next generation of hits.

Still, the news isn’t all sour at the web: Frosh entries “Supernatural” and “Related” are off to good starts, while returnees “Gilmore Girls” and “Smallville” are experiencing creative highs and ratings bumps. Net also expects big things from the second cycle of summer hit “Beauty and the Geek,” which returns this January.

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