Leaping into the Future

Ancier and Janollari share their vision for The WB

Why This Matters

Back-Stage Drama

Back-Stage Drama

Jordan Levin's abrupt departure from his gig as CEO of The WB, only weeks after he was promoted to the post, is still sending shock waves through the industry.

The buzz is that Levin's exit was the result of a longstanding power struggle between him and Bruce Rosenblum, executive vice president of Warner Bros. Television Group.

Another factor: WB Chairman Garth Ancier. "Garth thinks it's time for new thinking and risk-taking, to take The WB to the next level," says a producer who has worked with Ancier and Levin.

Yet when WB founder Jamie Kellner announced last September that he would retire in May, he passed the leadership mantle to Levin, who'd been with The WB since its inception a decade ago. It was a decision endorsed by Jeff Bewkes, chairman of Time Warner's entertainment and networks group. A big supporter of Levin's, Bewkes understood the value of the WB executive's strong rapport with the creative community.

There was less enthusiasm from Rosenblum and his boss and ally Warner Bros. Chairman and CEO Barry Meyer. And it didn't help that the WB took a big ratings hit last season. Or that Levin and Rosenblum had clashed "on style and creative matters," according to a WB insider. Friends of Kellner say he hoped Levin would build a separate relationship with Meyer, thereby securing his future. But Rosenblum remained an obstacle between the two. According to one studio insider, Levin tried to set up meetings with Meyer—only to have Rosenblum take them. Also, it was Rosenblum who often ended up mediating disagreements between Levin and Ancier.

Without Kellner as protector, Levin, who reported to Meyer, was vulnerable. When it was suggested that Levin stay, but in his old job as entertainment presidency, the offer didn't fly. "Notice how quickly they had [new WB Entertainment President] David Janollari teed up," says an insider. "They knew [Levin] would never take the demotion."

Insiders say morale at The WB took a dive when Levin got the boot. Once the trigger was pulled, several key Time Warner execs, including Bewkes, were upset about his departure. "There was an 11th-hour push to find a way to get Levin to stay in some capacity. Bewkes badly wanted him on the reservation," says the producer. "But it was too late."—PA

Warner Bros. surprised the industry last week by ousting Jordan Levin as The WB's boy wonder CEO after only three weeks. The next day, David Janollari was named the network's president of entertainment.

Industry vet Garth Ancier remains The WB chairman, and he'll leave most of the programming decisions to Janollari, much as he did with Levin. WB execs say Levin's departure wasn't because The WB had one of the toughest years of any network. It was chemistry: WB's top brass was more comfortable with Ancier at the helm and Levin as entertainment president. Since Levin refused to take a public demotion, Janollari won the job.

Janollari has a broad background. He worked for Peter Chernin at Fox, for Leslie Moonves at Warner Bros., and then as an independent producer with Bob Greenblatt. Together, they brought Six Feet Under to HBO. They also produced several shows for UPN.

Now Janollari moves from shepherding his own projects to searching for the best shows for The WB. Day one on the job, he and Ancier spoke to B&C's Paige Albiniak about the network's future.

David, what do you think needs to be changed at The WB?

DJ: Nothing here needs wholesale fixing. The base is solid. They've built a solid foundation with genuine hits on many nights and in key time slots. The key is to build upon that and broaden the success. I've been involved with shows such as Friends, Drew Carey, and Six Feet Under. There's nothing more exciting than coming up with a big hit. That's the goal of the person in this job.

What do you think you bring to The WB?

I've put shows on the air from all different sides, being a network executive, a studio executive, and an independent producer. Now I'm just taking another chair at the same table.

GA: It's not about losing Jordan, because he did a great job here. He was my partner creatively at the network the whole time. He was the third person we hired. And I'm ecstatic about the dramas and product we've bought for fall. What David brings is a different sensibility. He has developed hit shows, and he has great taste in writers, talent, and concepts. There's not much more you can ask for than all those skills in one person.

You two said The WB needs to get a reality hit on its schedule. What's the plan?

We've budgeted quite a lot of our programming budget for reality. We've increased the number of original hours per year. We still plan to use reality to replace repeats of serialized dramas that don't repeat well. We'll use it when One Tree Hill runs out of originals. The challenge is, to what degree reality has changed the paradigm of how stories are told. Great reality shows do what great scripted shows do. But frankly, it's been fascinating in the past few weeks to watch what's happened with Summerland and how well we've done with that.

David, you've been successful with comedy on UPN, an area where The WB has had a tough time. How do you plan to approach comedy in your new job?

DJ: I will keep in mind the core target demo of the network: females 18-34. We have to find the next unique voice, identify the next show creators, and mine them for giant hits. People are saying comedy is dead or dormant, but that only provides more opportunity for a big hit to come around and take the audience by storm. I would not run from comedy; I would embrace it.

Buyers have questioned whether Jeff Foxworthy and Drew Carey are good fits for The WB. Why did you choose their shows?

GA: The last time comedies were having this much of a hard time was when we were at Fox. At that time, we took a shot with non-story-form shows, which did not require audiences to sit for a half-hour and watch the whole thing. Now we have Jeff Foxworthy's point of view for middle America. You have to take big bets when you have stars like Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy. It will be a sad day for television when executives are unwilling to take shots that aren't down-the-middle hits.

David, you had it good at Greenblatt-Janollari Studios. Why leave?

DJ: A year ago, I would not have thought of doing a job like this. But the one thing I haven't tried is helping to run a network. They've built a successful company here, and I wanted to become part of that.

What's going to happen to Greenblatt-Janollari now that Bob is Showtime's programming president?

DJ: We haven't had a chance to decide what the future of the company is.

The WB ended down $25 million in the upfronts. How do you plan to change that?

GA: To be down only 4% in revenue when you are down more than 4% in audience is actually good. We still have a healthy CPM increase on a somewhat lower audience base. When we had as rough a year in the ratings, that tells you we have good brand equity on Madison Avenue. It's because of the kind of shows we make: Everwood, 7th Heaven, Smallville. Advertisers know their clients we'll be comfortable in them. We believe we will turn this around.