Only hours after officially being named chairman and CEO of Turner Broadcasting, Jamie Kellner was already thinking four moves ahead.
"I think next year could be a big year for the Hawks," said Kellner, whose new empire includes Turner's three professional sports teams in Atlanta. "They're onto something big."
That's the Kellner most in Hollywood know: the relentless visionary who helped build the Fox network and, more recently, The WB into prominence. Although danger may not be his middle name, Kellner definitely has taken a number of chances in his career, and most have paid off.
"He is a guy who, while everybody else is playing chess on a one-dimensional board, he's playing 3-D chess," says Jordan Levin, The WB's new co-president of entertainment. "I think this new position is a good challenge for him because he is taking mature brands vs. building a start-up brand. Jamie is clearly a guy who likes to be challenged and likes to do things that people think can't be done. The bigger the underdog he is, the happier he is."
Since starting his career in 1969 at CBS, Kellner has gone about things differently from most in the industry. After stints at Viacom Enterprises and Orion Pictures, where he served as president of the Orion Entertainment Group, Kellner took a leap of faith and was named president and COO at Fox Broadcasting. In 1986, he was the first employee hired by Barry Diller at Fox-a network many TV executives believed would never get off the ground.
"I think Jamie is clearly a guy who appreciates a good challenge. That would be the only way to explain why he stepped into Fox in the early days and endeavored to do something that most people in this world thought was not possible," says Sandy Grushow, the head of Fox Broadcasting and 20th Century Fox TV, who ran Fox's marketing division under Kellner in the late '80s. "I think, just based on his track record, it's pretty obvious that he's not somebody who shies away from a good challenge."
After eight years of building up America's fourth network, with such shows as The Simpsons, InLiving Color and Married.With Children, Kellner left Fox to take some time off. A year later, he unveiled plans for a new broadcast network to be owned by Tribune Broadcasting, Warner Bros. and his own station group, ACME Communications. Since its January 1995 launch, The WB has grown into a network driven by young adults and teens. Although it's not yet profitable, Kellner says the network is poised to achieve the largest percentage increases during May's upfront season.
Along the way, he built ACME Communications into a 10-station group that went public in 1999. All 10 ACME stations are WB affiliates, including KPLR-TV St. Louis-The WB's highest-rated affiliate for the past two years. Kellner also owns the syndication rights to Saturday Night Live
with the show's creator, Lorne Michaels, and is an investor in several technology companies.
Kellner, who will remain The WB's CEO, says he will shuttle back and forth from his new home in Atlanta to Los Angeles once a month to remain involved with the network. "I'll still be around," he says of The WB. "They'll be fine without me. I'm quite comfortable with the network creatively and where it's going. And when it comes to picking up the pilots or picking up series and stuff like that, I will be there."- Joe Schlosser