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Variety Takes a Hatchet To Warner Bros. Movie Chief Jeff Robinov

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood May 17, 2013 at 10:07PM

It had to happen sooner or later. New Variety editor Claudia Eller has taken off the gloves and run a tough story about once rock-solid studio Warner Bros. which has been under management duress of late. Ex-L.A. Times staffer Eller is one of three editors in charge at the Penske-owned Variety; she runs film coverage, while Cynthia Littleton supervises TV and Andrew Wallenstein manages all things Digital.
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Warner Bros. execs Rosenblum, Robinov, Tsujihara
Warner Bros. execs Rosenblum, Robinov, Tsujihara

It had to happen sooner or later. New Variety editor Claudia Eller has taken off the gloves and run a tough story about once rock-solid studio Warner Bros., which has been under management duress of late. Ex-L.A. Times staffer Eller is one of three editors in charge at the Penske-owned Variety; she runs film coverage, while Cynthia Littleton supervises TV and Andrew Wallenstein manages all things Digital.

Eller reports that movie studio chief Jeff Robinov threw a hissy fit when he didn't get the top job that went to rival Kevin Tsujihara instead. Given that TV chief Bruce Rosenblum decided to leave the studio altogether when he didn't land the post, it is presumably in the studio's interest to hang on to Robinov at this point, who reportedly apologized to his bosses and has been on his best behavior.

I've been worried about Robinov's longevity partly because he is one of the few studio chiefs who is willing to take bold risks on moviemakers. This is not a cookie cutter formula guy, although he makes his share of tentpole "Harry Potter"s (departed exec Alan Horn took credit for that series).  Robinov recognizes the need to bet on exciting filmmakers like David O. Russell ("Three Kings"), Christopher Nolan ("Insomnia" led to "Batman Returns" and other tentpoles), the Wachowskis ("The Matrix" series paid off, but "V for Vendetta," "Speed Racer" and "Cloud Atlas" did not), Spike Jonze (who got extra time and money to fix "Where the Wild Things Are"), Ben Affleck (Robinov is the one studio head who saw the actor's directing talent in "Gone Baby Gone," which yielded "The Town" and Oscar-winning "Argo") and most recently, Baz Luhrmann, whose "The Great Gatsby" may have been a turbulent ride but turned out to be a commercial hit. Warners made the right call to wait until May to release it.

Robinov seems to have thrived with temperate and experienced executive Alan Horn at his side, and he seems to have been struggling more since Horn's departure, with a series of recent flops listed by Eller, including “Gangster Squad” (delayed after the Aurora shootings), New Line's $200-million “Jack the Giant Slayer” and the less expensive magic movie “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone."

But not only did Warners score with "Argo" ($221 million worldwide) and "The Hobbit" ($303 million worldwide), but the studio has enjoyed a sudden turnaround in its fortunes, which Eller did not mention, from Brian Helgeland's "42" ($86 million domestic) to "Gatsby." The studio is currently ranked third among the studios for market share, and has high expectations for the summer for Nolan-supervised "Man of Steel," which has excellent buzz, and Guillermo del Toro's "Pacific Rim," among other things.

Warners needs Robinov. They already have a new chief executive learning his job and a TV department in turmoil. The last thing they should do is to rock the movie division as well--management changes always take a few years to shake out. What Robinov should recognize is that he could use a sober-minded executive to help him shoulder his massive responsibilities and steer him straight. That's Tsujihara.


This article is related to: Warner Bros.


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.