Two years ago Time Warner Inc. Chief Executive Jeff Bewkes created an Office of the President to inspire three ambitious executives into collegial competition for the top job at Warner Bros., Hollywood's largest film and television studio.
"These three will work as a unit," Bewkes declared.
But the effort has inspired distrust and disharmony inside Warner Bros., the studio known for Batman, Bugs Bunny and"The Big Bang Theory" as well as for its decades of management stability.
The three competing candidates — Television Group President Bruce Rosenblum, Motion Pictures Group President Jeff Robinov and Home Entertainment Group President Kevin Tsujihara — do not work as a unit. They rarely meet as a trio or get involved in one another's businesses, according to several people associated with the studio who were not authorized to speak publicly.
And although Bewkes said anyone jockeying or politicking for the job of Warner Bros.' chairman would "eliminate themselves" as contenders, the three men have been maneuvering for position while their subordinates quietly advertise their bosses' qualities and rivals' shortcomings.
Morale is low and anxiety is high on Warner's Burbank lot. Some insiders describe an atmosphere in which executives are hesitant to extend contracts, staffers are afraid to cross department lines for fear of "taking sides" and potential partners are wary of signing long-term deals without knowing who will be in charge.
Some have also expressed frustration that the succession process has dragged on so long and that Bewkes has remained publicly silent on the matter.
"People are very preoccupied with the issue of succession, and it creates an undercurrent of tension and awkwardness," said a Warner Bros. executive, one of more than a dozen interviewed by The Times who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. "It's like being a kid wondering if your parents are about to break up."
-- Ben Fritz and Meg James, Los Angeles Times