Warner Bros.’ new management team essentially pairs a 25-year studio veteran with a popular entertainment exec.
While neither Barry Meyer nor Alan Horn were the highest-profile candidates tipped for their respective jobs, both know their way intimately around the WB organization.
More importantly, both have strong links to outgoing Warner chiefs Robert Daly and Terry Semel and to Time Warner chairman Gerald Levin and vice chairman Ted Turner.
Meyer has been with Warner Bros. since the days when Ted Ashley was running the studio and corporate chieftain Steven Ross was just starting to restore some of its lost luster as a Hollywood powerhouse.
Over the years, Meyer has built a reputation as a tough but fair negotiator, a sharp-minded businessman and an honest, forthright exec who has become an invaluable liaison for outsiders doing business with WB, particularly in TV. Still, he has remained a behind-the-scenes force in his 28 years at the studio — until now.
“He doesn’t have the glamour profile of someone who takes the creative meetings with talent, but everyone in the business has certainly heard of, met or had dealings with him,” said Lee Gabler, co-chairman of Creative Artists Agency.
NBC prexy and CEO Robert Wright, who dealt with Meyer on the high-stakes renegotiation of the “ER” license fee last year, described him as “a strong negotiator but a consummate professional.”
Peter Benedek, a founding partner of United Talent Agency, said Meyer was very much in “the Bob Daly mold. He’s accessible, smart, responsive and willing to make a quick decision.”
Leading the troops
But some industry insiders privately wondered if Meyer has the artistic vision or personal charisma needed to inspire the Warners troops and lead the studio into the 21st century. One longtime associate characterized him as “an order-taker, not an order-giver.”
Some also doubted whether Meyer would be able to continue the Daly-Semel regime’s success in serving as ambassadors for Hollywood when called on to speak out on such issues as censorship and various anti-showbiz initiatives emanating from Washington. Some suggested that Horn and other more dynamic personalities may grow into more public roles, even as Meyer steers the ship.
Others note that Meyer has never seemed to be much of a self-promoter. “You’ve never seen him campaigning for something on his own behalf,” said a senior exec at a rival studio. “He’s always just done his job and done it well.”
With his background in TV and business affairs, however, Meyer is certainly well suited to the new economic realities of Hollywood.
“Now that the economics of the movie business are much more difficult, the future of the industry is much more reliant on TV,” said Jamie Kellner, chief exec of the WB Network, who began dealing with Meyer a decade ago when Kellner was prexy of the Fox web. “I don’t think he has an enemy in the business,” Kellner added.
Meyer himself summed up the best institutional argument for his promotion as he was praising the overall strength of Warner Bros.’ senior management.
“Across the board, in all divisions, Warner Bros. has the best in the industry,” Meyer said. “In that respect — it may sound inappropriate for me to say — but I’m qualified to do this job.”
Horn, 56, started his career in the Air Force and then moved into brand management at Procter & Gamble. He subsequently worked at Embassy Communications, became president of 20th Century Fox and was one of the founders of Castle Rock Entertainment in 1987.
Trusted power broker
The exec has built a reputation in Hollywood as an honest power broker who is completely trusted by the business community.
Horn may have had a limited role in creative decision-making at Castle Rock. He nonetheless earned kudos in the company’s glory days, when it produced the TV series “Seinfeld” and pics such as “A Few Good Men,” “In the Line of Fire” and “City Slickers.”
Castle Rock has struggled to maintain its performance in recent years with a string of duds. The company has high expectations this year for “The Story of Us” and “The Green Mile.”
Liked by talent
Horn is liked by talent, who appreciate his collaborative approach and occasionally spirited contributions.
While some execs said that Horn’s appointment was a surprise given his limited experience running a major corporation, others pointed to his brief tenure at Fox and his experience working within both the Turner and Time Warner corporate cultures as ample qualification.
Horn’s job description gives him hands-on control of the feature division, yet he is not expected to micro-manage it the way Semel did.
“You won’t see him in as many meetings with screenwriters as you did with Terry,” opined one agent.