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Warner Bros. TV Chairman Peter Roth to step down in early 2021

Entrance to Warner Bros. movie studio in Burbank.
(Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times)

Warner Bros. Television Chairman Peter Roth, one of Hollywood’s most successful executives, will step down early next year.

For more than two decades, Roth shepherded onto the TV screen such hits as “The West Wing,” “The Big Bang Theory,” “Two and a Half Men,” “Gilmore Girls,” “One Tree Hill,” “Smallville” and “Gossip Girl” — cultural touchstones that generated hundreds of millions of dollars in profit for Warner Bros. He was instrumental in extending the broadcast life of “Friends,” which was long the studio’s biggest cash cow. And he helped salvage “Two and a Half Men” after the chaotic departure of Charlie Sheen in 2011.

Peter Roth, chairman of the Warner Bros. Television Group, will step down in early 2021.
Peter Roth, chairman of the Warner Bros. Television Group, will step down in early 2021.
(Chris Frawley / Warner Bros. Entertainment)

The bounty produced by Roth’s TV pipeline helped the Warner Bros. studio ride out the ups and downs of the volatile movie side of the business.

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Roth, whose upcoming departure was announced Friday, becomes the latest high-profile executive to call it quits amid the turmoil brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has accelerated trends in viewership and forced companies to rethink operations. Warner Bros., now owned by telecommunications giant AT&T, has spent the last few months undergoing a painful restructuring and deep cost-cutting, which has resulted in layoffs of hundreds of employees and hastened the retirements of some senior executives.

“Working at Warner Bros. has been the greatest, most meaningful, most rewarding experience of my career,” Roth, 69, said in a statement. “For the past 22 years, I have had the privilege to be associated with some of the most inspiring creative talent, the most impactful television series and the most dedicated and passionate people I have ever known.”

Warner Bros., in announcing the move, stopped short of naming a replacement, although the company has been looking for a younger generation of leadership as it tries to expand its nascent streaming service, HBO Max.

Channing Dungey is the leading candidate to succeed Roth at the studio, according to knowledgeable people who were not authorized to speak publicly. Until earlier this month, Dungey served as vice president of original content at Netflix. Before joining Netflix in late 2018, Dungey spent more than a decade at ABC, where in February 2016 she became the first Black president of a major broadcast network. While at the Disney-owned network, Dungey nurtured such shows as “Private Practice,” “Scandal” and “How to Get Away With Murder.” Earlier in her career, she spent five years as a Warner Bros. production executive.

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Warner Bros. has long been Hollywood’s most prolific TV studio.

Roth has been a magnet for talent, writers and producers who appreciated his unflappable manner and easygoing style. But his low-key demeanor belied his skills as a tough negotiator who secured top-dollar deals with NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox for his writer-producers. Roth signed exclusive overall deals with such heavyweight producers as Chuck Lorre, Greg Berlanti, J.J. Abrams and Katie McGrath’s Bad Robot Productions, Ava DuVernay, John Wells, Damon Lindelof, Bryan Cranston, Mindy Kaling and Robert Zemeckis, among others.

His steady leadership and the number of juggernauts produced by Warner Bros. TV became the envy of other media companies. Roth joined the studio in March 1999 as its president; he was upped to chairman in February. During his more than two decades leading the studio, 32 scripted prime-time series that he championed reached the prized 100-episode milestone.

Before that, Roth served as president of Fox Entertainment. He helped lead a creative surge for Rupert Murdoch’s network with such shows as “The X-Files,” “Ally McBeal” and “That ’70s Show.”

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His departure from Warner Bros. will advance a wholesale changing of the guard at the venerable Burbank studio. Since AT&T assumed control of the Warner Bros. studio, premium channel HBO and the Turner TV channels, there has been an exodus of top executive talent.

Warner Bros. said Roth’s exit has been in the works for several months.

“Peter and I have been meeting for some time about this, and while there’s never a great moment to say goodbye, he felt that this was the right time to transition in a new leader for the group,” said Ann Sarnoff, chair and chief executive of WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group, in a statement. “He’s delivered hundreds of shows, thousands of episodes and millions of viewers, with one singular vision — to work with the best people and to make the best television series. ... We’re thankful for his contributions to our company and wish him the very best.”


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