|CEO Jordan Levin is leaving the WB, where he was the frontman for recent upfront presentations.
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Jordan Levin leaves
The Time Warner-backed network announced June 14 that CEO Jordan Levin would exit the company, to sign an independent production deal with Warner Bros. Television. His departure leaves Chairman Garth Ancier with sole oversight of the network. Yesterday, the network said it had appointed Six Feet Under producer David Janollari as president of entertainment. That role has been vacant since September, but was for the most part filled by Mr. Levin.
Six Feet Under airs on HBO, which along with Warner Bros. Television is also part of Time Warner.
The news left advertising media buyers a little nonplussed by the timing, with some complaining that they had made upfront commitments on the basis of a programming vision that now might be open to change.
However, Mr. Ancier told AdAge.com that the program schedule was set and would not be altered in any significant way. "We don't anticipate any change in positioning or direction. I was a willing accomplice [in the selection of this year's shows]. There are no orphans on the schedule."
Commenting on the timing of the management changes, he explained: "There is only a very small window where you can do these things. We haven't started development yet for next year." Mr. Ancier said if the change had come later in the season it would have created many more difficulties.
He said the management changes did not reflect a "lack of belief" in Mr. Levin, a popular figure with advertisers, but rather a change in the way the network was run. Messrs. Levin and Ancier had effectively split responsibilities for running the network, something that had not worked.
Mr. Ancier said that Mr. Janollari's addition would help bring more critically acclaimed shows to the WB in the future. Mr. Janollari was president of Greenblatt Janollari Studio, which has four prime-time series on air: Six Feet Under, UPN's Eve and One on One, and PBS' American Family. Mr. Janollari is also a former head of comedy development at Warner Bros. Television, working under then president Leslie Moonves (now at Viacom) back in 1991, and a former director of comedy development at News corp.'s Fox Broadcasting.
The WB's executive vice president for media sales, Bill Morningstar, and his staff called agencies early this week to discuss the announcements. The network, generally sought after by advertisers seeking to reach the 12- to 34-year-old demographic, took in $675 million in upfront commitments.
One agency executive close to the network said: "It's a little tough to talk about changes in direction four weeks after the upfront. Jordan [Levin] is the face of the WB." Mr. Levin fronted the Burbank, Calif.-based network's upfront presentation together with Mr. Ancier. The network suffered ratings declines last year, but generated significant buzz around new fall shows such as The Mountain, a family drama set in a ski-resort and Jack and Bobby, a series about a young man destined to be president.
'We really liked Jordan'
Kris Magel, senior vice president and group director of national broadcast at Publicis Groupe's Optimedia Group, said: "From a buyer's perspective we really liked Jordan. He was so ready to talk about his plans and he was always very open about his scheduling strategy. Everybody gravitated towards him. He was very approachable, like a regular guy."
Mr. Levin's exit prompted another agency executive to question what the WB's continued commitment to branded entertainment would be. The network has been one of the most aggressive in pursuing deals that involve some element of advertiser integration or co-marketing arrangements. The music show Pepsi Smash is one such series currently on air. The network also spearheaded the game show Pepsi Play for a Billion.
Mr. Magel said the WB sales group is "always very open to that kind of stuff," adding that they expected marketing partners to get behind their shows in providing support. Mr. Ancier said that was also unlikely to change since Mr. Janollari was as familiar with the branded entertainment territory, because he has worked as a network and a studio executive.