Baton twirling at Warner Bros.

Juggling begins as succession plan is unveiled

Three and a half years is a long time.

Time Warner chief Jeff Bewkes sought to quell the rampant speculation about the future leadership of Warner Bros. with the announcement last week of a three-pronged succession plan. But news that the trio of execs who were vying for the top studio job will now share power has only created more intrigue about who’s really in and who’s not on the Burbank lot.

After months of speculation, Time Warner confirmed Sept. 22 that Barry Meyer would extend his contract to remain WB chairman and CEO through the end of 2013, setting the question of who he would pass the baton to after his previous contract expired in 2011.

Meanwhile, the troika of Jeff Robinov (motion picture group prez), Bruce Rosenblum (TV group prexy) and Kevin Tsujihara (home entertainment prexy) will retain their gigs but form a three-man “office of the president” under Meyer as they prepare for the tricky task of sharing CEO power after Meyer’s departure.

The odd man out in the scenario is Alan Horn, who has been prexy and chief operating officer of Warner Bros. and the boss of the film unit since 1999. Horn’s departure, which had been set for the end of 2011 in tandem with Meyer, was even accelerated by eight months to April in order to give Robinov more headroom on the feature side. The ultimate authority of any studio topper — the power to greenlight pics — will pass from Horn to Robinov in the spring.

Although Bewkes’ solution to the succession question at Warners was clearly carefully crafted, studio insiders say the news hit the lot with very few other specifics than what was in the press release — which didn’t even spell out whether Meyer is actually departing at the end of 2013.

The plan for the threesome to share power and report directly to Bewkes wasn’t even spelled out explicitly, but as everyone from WB staffers to film biz bloggers began asking questions, Bewkes’ intent for the post-Meyer transition was quick to emerge.

But that hasn’t quieted the skepticism that Bewkes is actually conducting a “bake-off” to determine which of the three will eventually be crowned king.