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Getting to know Kellner

Turner executives watch warily as their new chairman makes himself home in Atlanta 4/01/2001 08:00:00 PM Eastern

It's a takeover cliché: A TV company is acquired, the old boss is gone, the new boss comes in, the incumbents get nervous and start wondering which of the new boss' cronies would want their jobs.

The question among executives at Turner Broadcasting System is how new Chairman Jamie Kellner will play out the cliché: squeeze out senior executives at the network or opt for happily ever after?

Right now, Turner executives are in the early-dating phase. They're just getting to know the new boss, whom parent AOL Time Warner promoted from his longtime post as chairman of its WB Network. And Kellner is just starting to get his arms around the operation.

"There's a lot of uncertainty," said one TBS executive. "No one up north will protect us the way Ted could." When Time Warner acquired TBS in 1996, founder Ted Turner worked hard to guard his old turf. His role in AOL Time Warner is shrinking fast, and lieutenant Terry McGuirk is stepping aside to focus on running TBS' Atlanta Braves and other sports teams.

Kellner didn't calm anxieties by tapping longtime sidekick Garth Ancier, who worked with him in starting The WB and in the early days at Fox Network. Fresh from one of those cruelly volatile network posts, head of programming for NBC, Ancier is now executive vice president of programming, which would seem to encroach on the turf of TBS network heads, who don't handle other key functions, such ad sales, distribution and finance.

And, whereas Kellner says he's going to relocate his family to Atlanta, where TBS' operations are based, Ancier is planning only to buy a condo and be there a couple weeks a month. That suggests another post-takeover cliché: relocating the company. A Turner spokesman said Ancier's job obviously involves a lot of work with Hollywood executives, so a permanent move to Atlanta makes no sense.

Some TBS executives express only enthusiasm. "I'm about to have my first long meeting with Jamie," said Brad Siegel, president of general entertainment networks, who caught up with Kellner at an affiliate sales conference in Orlando last week.

Part of Kellner's tour of TBS' operations, the Orlando meeting, was largely a casual family affair. "I came for the baseball," Kellner said, referring to a weekend Atlanta Braves spring-training game that TBS executives attended.

Other stops included a Los Angeles meeting with advertisers, an Atlanta get-together with CNN employees, and an appearance at CNN's party at last Thursday's Radio & Television Correspondents' dinner.

"Look, it's going to be good to have television executives in charge," said one network executive. "Terry came out of sales, Heyer was a strategist and ad guy. Kellner and Ancier live and breathe television programming."

 

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