Bewkes the Big Loser in Warner Bros. ‘Bake-off’

Forget for a moment the three guys positioned opposite each other by the Warner Bros. “bake-off” to replace Barry Meyer, and consider the competition’s biggest loser: Time Warner CEO Jeffrey Bewkes.

The inevitable day when Bewkes had to designate a successor to Meyer has finally arrived, and it’s Kevin Tsujihara, the head of the home-entertainment unit, edging out TV group topper Bruce Rosenblum and film chief Jeff Robinov.

Whatever the merits of the decision, the logic and process governing how it was made seems to have been inadvertently designed to inflict maximum damage on the stability of the studio, and to make Bewkes look indecisive.

Not only did the very public, protracted scenario turn the candidates into politicians as well as executives, but it virtually ensured heightened tension in its aftermath. It also fueled speculation within the industry and among journalists (see the Los Angeles Times piece in November), while Warner Bros. officials could do little more than privately spin and fume.

Why? Because by essentially saying he couldn’t make up his mind — that the three members of the “office of the president” he formed were either too close in abilities or too unproven for one to stand apart and take the reins — Bewkes made it a given the also-rans would be perceived as being in play to leave.

Might that have happened had he clearly designated an heir at the outset? Sure, but the drawn-out absence of a choice turned the studio into its own version of a reality competition show, as people became preoccupied by who would outlast whom.

Is Tsujihara the right guy? Frankly, probably any of the three would be fine, but in this context, it hardly matters. If Bewkes wanted to look like he was being deliberate and thoughtful, he outsmarted himself. And instead of stabilizing matters, announcing a winner of the “bake-off” has only managed to turn up the heat in the Warner Bros. kitchen.


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