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

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by Anne Thompson
May 17, 2013 10:07 PM
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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.


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