UPDATE: Warner Bros. lawyers are trying to figure out how to proceed with the impending exit of Jeff Robinov, according to a person close to the studio. The legal team is evaluating what it would cost to fire the 54-year-old executive versus crafting a more amicable parting which would mean a smaller settlement. Another source familiar with the charged atmosphere in Burbank, characterized the current situation as “untenable” — which hopefully means a resolution will come quickly. It’s clearly clean-the- slate time under newly minted chief executive Kevin Tsujihara, who is about to replicate on the movie side the kind of management shift he made just weeks ago in the TV division.
Jeff Robinov isn’t happy in his job, nor is Warner Bros. happy with him.
As expected, the parties will likely part company in coming weeks.
However, Robinov has not resigned his post as president of Warner Bros. Motion Picture Group, as reported by several news outlets on Thursday. Nor is he expected to quit since that would preclude him from getting a multi-million dollar settlement on his contract, which expires at the end of 2014, plus an additional severance package. If he gets pushed out as his former colleague, Warner Bros. Television Group chief Bruce Rosenblum, did last month, he would then be entitled to collect what’s owed him.
As of late Thursday, there were no settlement talks between Warner Bros. or its parent company Time Warner and Robinov’s legal team.
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Reps from Warner Bros. and Time Warner did not return multiple calls to Variety seeking comment for this story. Nor did Robinov respond to an inquiry.
Tensions between Robinov and his bosses, newly installed CEO Kevin Tsujihara and Time Warner chief Jeff Bewkes, have escalated to a boiling point that few believe can be resolved. Robinov’s relationship with Tsujihara has been particularly frayed since Tsujihara took over as chief executive and has been more hands-on in the movie division. Robinov had been accustomed to a lot of latitude under his former bosses, Warner Bros.’ outgoing chairman Barry Meyer and former Warner Bros. president Alan Horn.
Robinov took the week off from work (apparently to deal with personal matters such as an operation on his sinuses) and is expected to be back on the Warner lot on Monday. That said, the situation with his future there was described by one knowledgeable source as very “fluid.”
At the moment, Robinov has no other job lined up. He has no interest in being a producer, according to people who know him well, and would like to find another top studio job. But there are no such openings at the present time. The only potential slot is at 2oth Century Fox, where chairman Jim Gianopulos is known to be looking to bring in a No. 2 to help oversee the movie studio.
But sources insist that would be an unlikely move for Robinov, given that he would want the same greenlight authority he has at Warner Bros. Gianopulos, who was only recently given sole oversight of the studio after News Corp. ousted his longtime co-chair Tom Rothman, is not about to give up or share that authority.
With no job prospect in sight and no chance of a payout if he quits, Robinov has no motivation to abruptly walk away from his present post without being shown the door.
Robinov has been openly expressing his discontent at the studio ever since losing a nearly three-year run-off in January to succeed Meyer as chairman-CEO of the studio. In recent weeks his anger and unhappiness have been even more evident, say people who work with him.
He has been telling his colleagues that he doesn’t see a future for himself at Warner Bros. because his bosses have not given him a vote of confidence and assurances that they want him to stay after his current deal expires.
The upheaval with Robinov comes at an awkward moment, say some Warner insiders, noting that this is a time when the film team is basking in the glory of “Man of Steel’s” super debut last weekend. But Robinov has not been there to celebrate and congratulate those who work for him. The Superman movie opened with global ticket sales of $200 million.
Also, people at the studio were surprised when Robinov left the June 10 Gotham premiere party for “Man of Steel” after just 15 minutes.
Robinov’s impolitic behavior — which also included him hanging up on Meyer when he delivered the news that home entertainment honcho Tsujihara had been selected as his successor — has hurt him with the Warner Bros. brass despite his skills as a creative executive.
It is unclear when the next shoe will drop, but it is sure to be soon. There is speculation that once Robinov leaves his position, everyone on his team, including production president Greg Silverman, marketing chief Sue Kroll and distribution head Dan Fellman will report directly to Tsujihara at least until he can figure out a succession plan.
The Warner Bros.-Robinov rift adds to the management turmoil at the studio that was long known as the most stable of the majors.
Rosenblum, who competed for the top spot along with Robinov and Tsujihara, left the studio in May. Last week, he joined Legendary Entertainment as president of the company’s newly launched television and digital media division.
Subsid Legendary Pictures, which has been a longtime co-financing and production partner at Warner Bros., is also poised to leave the fold. Robinov and Legendary CEO Thomas Tull have had a tumultuous relationship over issues such as creative control. The relationship began to deteriorate once Horn (now chairman of Disney Studios) was forced out in 2011.
Robinov joined Warner Bros. Pictures in 1997, following five years as a lit agent at ICM, where he repped writers and directors including the Hughes brothers, Wachowski siblings, Chris McQuarrie and McG. He’s known for his talent relationships with certain filmmakers like Ben Affleck, Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan.
While “Man of Steel” had a strong opening and “The Hangover Part III” has performed solidly, tracking for Warner Bros.’ big-budget July 12 release “Pacific Rim,” of which Legendary owns 75%, has been weak. WB is coming off of a disappointing first quarter, with a string of box office misfires, among them “Gangster Squad” and New Line Cinema’s “Jack the Giant Slayer” and “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.”
Warner Bros. has high hopes for New Line’s “The Conjuring,” which bows July 19 and has had solid response from early test screenings. “We are The Millers,” also from New Line, opens later this summer.
(Dave McNary contributed to this report)