He keeps singular company. While most entertainment presidents in Hollywood spend their days negotiating with agents, Warner Bros. Animation President Sander Schwartz hangs with Batman, Pokémon, the Justice League, and the Japanese heroes from Xaolin Showdown.
"Animation is a kind of magic, it's one of the things that attracts me," he says. Schwartz may love the medium, but he took a circuitous route to get there. Sure he wanted to be in show business "but being in the Midwest and not seeing any opportunities," he opted for convention: law school.
"I really liked animation, but I didn't think about it as a career," he admits. "In Ohio, most people don't think you get money making cartoons." Schwartz proved them wrong.
After finishing law school, the Cleveland-born Schwartz joined a law firm but found himself miscast. Then fate stepped in, and he landed a job at the local chapter of the Screen Actors Guild/American Federation of Radio and Television Artists. During his three-year stint, he negotiated collective-bargaining agreements for TV and film actors, TV news broadcasters, and radio DJs.
Call it kismet. That experience led him to CBS and New York, where he became vice president of business affairs and continued negotiating. Except he was sitting on the other side of the table-representing the network instead of the talent. After two years, his boss persuaded him to work in Los Angeles.
Then, in an unexpected twist, he was tapped to be vice president of business affairs at the American subsidiary of Japanese animator TMS Entertainment. That gig, coupled with his decade in business affairs at Columbia Pictures Television, seasoned him for Sony. He spent two years as president of Sony Pictures Family Entertainment, steeped in animation. Then WB came calling, and Schwartz was finally home.
As president of Warner Bros. Animation, Schwartz and his large staff develop shows for The WB-owned Kids' WB! and Cartoon Network, as well as non-Time Warner-affiliated companies. "My job is to manage several hundred animators, producers, writers, and directors and to oversee the development and production of shows for networks and other buyers," Schwartz says.
"The combination of his excellent creative instincts, along with his business acumen, makes him the ideal executive to run this business," says Bruce Rosenblum, executive VP of Warner Bros. Television Group and Schwartz's boss. And running an animation studio in a competitive, expanding sector is a challenge.
"There are more places than ever to put animated shows," Schwartz says, "and that makes the audience more and more fractionalized."
His current passion? Schwartz is developing The Batman
for Kids' WB!, a remake of the popular comic-book hero launching this fall. "With all the animation techniques available, we thought we could make a great show and tell Batman's story in a way that hadn't been done." In it, Batman is in his 20s and figuring out how to be a crime fighter. The Caped Crusader will also have an array of slick gadgets at his disposal and an even cooler Batmobile, Schwartz promises.
Schwartz's delight in WB's creative output is part of his charm-and his success. He brings an enthusiasm to a job that requires savvy and prescience, the ability to intuit what kids want to see on TV.
"He has tremendous love for kids, and he's a warm, funny guy who has a mind that's as sharp as can be," says Andy Suser, senior VP of business affairs for Dick Clark Productions, who has known Schwartz since his days at SAG/AFTRA. "He's one of the most likeable people I've encountered, and that's probably a universal feeling about him."