Studio taps Premiere exec Diane Nelson as chief

Get ready to see more superheroes take flight at Warner Bros.

After years of trying to figure out an efficient way to work with DC Comics and exploit more of its costumed characters — which include Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, the Flash and Green Lantern — as movies, TV shows and digital properties, the studio’s final solution was essentially to take complete control of the comicbook publisher.

The company has been rebooted as DC Entertainment, which will now be run by Warner Bros. vet Diane Nelson. Nelson has long overseen the “Harry Potter” franchise for the studio and managed Warner Premiere, which produces original direct-to-DVD pics, including several based on DC’s more iconic heroes.

“It’s no secret that DC has a myriad of rich and untapped possibilities from its deep library of iconic and lesser-known characters,” said Alan Horn, Warner Bros. Entertainment prexy and chief operating officer. “The formation of DC Entertainment will help us bring more DC properties across additional platforms to fans around the world.”

As part of the move, Paul Levitz will step down as president and publisher of DC Comics and segue into a new post as writer, contributing editor and consultant to DC Entertainment. His duties will include advising DC on rights-holder relationships, especially when it comes to DC’s complicated ownership of Superman (Daily Variety, Aug. 14).

“After so many roles at DC, it’s exciting to look forward to focusing on my writing and being able to remain a part of the company I love as it grows into its next stage,” said Levitz, who has written Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman comicbooks in the past.

A new publisher is being sought, who will report to Nelson. Levitz had previously reported to Horn.

Nelson’s appointment as DC prexy — the point person for all of DC’s entertainment efforts — comes at a time when comicbook-based properties have never been more important in Hollywood, especially at studios that are looking for their next big franchise.

The success of one pic at the megaplex can generate considerable coin from TV, licensing and merchandise, videogames and digital platforms. Last summer’s “The Dark Knight” hauled in more than $1 billion from the worldwide box office and went on to earn more from DVDs, toy sales and other revenue streams.

The timing of DC’s revamp comes after Disney’s $4 billion takeover of Marvel, but it is coincidental as WB had been working on such a move for nearly two years.

The studio has long been criticized for not doing more with DC but couldn’t because it needed an executive inside the comicbook company with the right sensibility for producing tentpoles, or at least the experience of managing all aspects of a major franchise.

Nelson has shepherded the “Harry Potter” franchise for WB since 2000, which includes keeping author J.K. Rowling happy with what the studio wants to do with the property. Given that the “Potter” pics have earned more than $5.4 billion at the B.O. and billions more from other avenues, Nelson will keep that role and continue to report to Jeff Robinov, prexy of Warner Bros. Picture Group.

Gregory Noveck, senior veep of creative affairs for DC Comics, had been serving as a liaison between the comicbook publisher and the studio. He’ll maintain a role working on entertainment projects under Nelson.

Robinov has especially been keen on taking more creative control of DC’s adaptations, but he needed an executive he could rely on to fully exploit the comicbook brands while also making sure die-hard fans would be happy with the projects produced.

“I’ve long believed that there was much more we could do across all of Warner Bros.’ businesses with this great body of characters and stories,” Robinov said. “There are endless creative possibilities to build upon.”

While Levitz, who had headed DC Comics since 2002, is well respected for keeping DC’s characters alive on the comicbook page, his interests have been more in publishing than in transitioning the characters to other entertainment platforms.

With no clear mandate from DC until now, Warner Bros.’ other divisions have been producing their own projects based on DC’s characters in an effort to boost their bottom lines.

The studio’s videogame division recently released “Batman: Arkham Asylum,” a dark actioner that followed a more family-friendly “Lego Batman” earlier this year. Warner Bros. TV has had a long-running hit on the WB and CW in “Smallville.” It also has drama “Human Target” set for a midseason debut on Fox, and another project, “Midnight Mass,” in development with the network. WB’s toon division produces “Batman: The Brave and the Bold” for Cartoon Network.

On the film front, Warner Bros. is moving forward with “The Green Lantern,” with Ryan Reynolds starring as the ringed hero. Other forthcoming projects include supernatural Western “Jonah Hex,” with Josh Brolin and Megan Fox; “The Losers”; and the Guy Ritchie-helmed “Lobo,” the latter two produced by Joel Silver.

Nelson will now wrangle all of the other projects that were in development across the various divisions and work with their toppers to identify new projects to produce while also coming up with an overall release and marketing strategy for them.

That will likely mean taking back control of some properties from producers, although final decisions have not been made, Robinov said.

While DC Entertainment is a new company under the WB umbrella, the DC Comics publishing business will remain the cornerstone of the company, releasing some 90 comicbooks through its various imprints and 30 graphic novels per month.

Nelson will eventually leave her post as prexy of Warner Premiere, which recently released the animated feature “Green Lantern: First Flight” direct to DVD, but will continue to run that made-for-DVD group, which she’s overseen since its formation in 2006.

Before that, Nelson was exec VP of global brand management for the studio, working with the company’s various divisions, as well as parent Time Warner, to exploit such franchises as “Potter,” Batman, “The Matrix,” as well as “Happy Feet,” “Polar Express” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

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