4 to lead company after CEO's resignation

Tribune Co. made it official Friday, announcing Randy Michaels’ resignation after a turbulent run at the company. Michaels’ role as CEO will be assumed, for the near term, by a four-member internal execs who will report to the Tribune board of directors.

The quartet comprises Don Liebentritt, Tribune’s chief restructuring officer; Nils Larsen, chief investment officer; Los Angeles Times publisher Eddy Hartenstein and Chicago Tribune publisher Tony Hunter. Larsen will also serve as chairman of Tribune Broadcasting.

Tribune’s chief operating officer Gerry Spector will report to the Tribune board.

Michaels’ forced exit comes on the heels of a damaging story in the New York Times about the “frat house” antics that have ensued at the once-conservative Chicago newspaper and TV giant during his tenure. Michaels’ joined Tribune in 2008 on the heels of Sam Zell’s buyout of the company that left it with a $13 billion debt load that forced the company into bankruptcy in December 2008. Those proceedings appear to be nearing a resolution with debtholders, which means that Tribune is likely to be in for an overhaul of its top execs in the near future. Tribune was expected to file its bankruptcy reorganization plan, after much legal wrangling with creditors and debtholders, on Friday in Delaware bankruptcy court.

Speculation about candidates to lead Tribune after it emerges from Chapter 11 have included former Disney chief Michael Eisner, who has disavowed any interest in running the company, and former News Corp. prexy Peter Chernin. Chernin has made it clear he has no interest in the CEO post at Tribune but has had a conversation about a possible role as chairman, though sources close to the exec say it remains “extremely unlikely” that he would take the post.

In a note to Tribune employees, the foursome on the exec council acknowledged the turmoil caused by the recent spate of stories about Tribune execs. That includes the resignation last week of Lee Abrams, chief innovation officer, who exited last week after sending a company-wide email with a link to a graphic sexual vid.

“During the last few weeks the company has drawn a lot of media attention, much of it negative,” the quartet wrote. “That coverage has diverted attention from the things that matter most: The quality of our media products, the talent and dedication of our people, and the very real progress that we’ve made over the last two-and-a-half years.”

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