As we head into Day 3 of the Bi-Coastal Era of DC Comics, even bigger organizational changes were announced at Warner Bros. Short version: Time Warner head Jeff Bewkes announced that ￼Warner Bros Chairman/CEO Barry Meyer would be staying on for two years (he had been rumored to be retiring before that) but studio head Alan Horn will be moving along in April 2011. Three men will fill a three-headed president role to replace Horn: Jeff Robinov, the movie guy, Bruce Rosenblum, the TV guy, and Kevin Tsujihara the multimedia/home entertainment guy.
Although this all seems far removed from the traditional comics business, it is all tied in, of course. Tsujihara once numbered DC among his responsibilities, and we all know Robinov’s interest in the division, including bringing in Diane Nelson to get DC up to speed. Nikki Finke has a chatty, catty history of the Bewkes/Horn relationship, but puts the comics movie situation in the forefront of why he is leaving:
Horn’s film division also was embarrassed by not nailing down the legal rights to Watchmen adequately. Mogul after mogul in Hollywood couldn’t understand how Warner Bros could even have started filming the graphic novel with 20th Century Fox still laying claim to the pic. And Watchmen looks like it won’t earn out with no domestic legs and no interest overseas. (Snarked one rival studio exec: “Now Alan is going to use Watchmen as justification to ban all R-rated films at Warner Bros.”) Which leads me to Horn’s biggest failure: leaving the most valuable DC Comics characters in movie development limbo for most of his tenure. While Warner Bros was paralyzed by indecision, chaotically starting and stopping work on scripts with DC characters, Marvel was exploiting the hell out of its characters with an ultra-ambitious film development slate. And now Marvel is part of the Disney marketing machine. Of Superman, Wonder Woman, and the Justice League, only Batman has a successful live action ongoing franchise. And Warner Bros is now embroiled in a fight for Superman’s film life with the rightsholders. And who knows how Green Lantern will turn out? But mining a minor DC character like Jonah Hex was last summer’s studio money pit.
At THR Kim Masters and Gregg Kilday also analyze how this went out, but don’t give the comics angle as much play. However, the overall picture emerges of just how important these superhero franchises are to the studio as a whole. The three presidents of WB recall the two editors-in-chief of DC Entertainment, Lee and DiDio, and also that studios love the three men go in, one man comes out scenario of executive development.
And the reality of the coastal split between DC divisions is also beginning to come into focus — see Kevin Melrose‘s excellent write-up for the best summation. While the first reaction was a sigh of relief, the bigger picture is that the forward-looking functions of DC are moving to closer studio control, and the publishing business might be left behind. Writer Tom Mason — himself no stranger to acquisition, as he was an owner of Malibu when it was sold to Marvel in the ’90s–has more:
I think lost in all the discussion and rundown of DC’s recent shift is that the biggest piece of the puzzle has yet to be explained or admitted to. Warner Bros. which folded DC Comics into a new company called DC Entertainment just a year ago, now took DC Comics out of that company and moved DC Entertainment – along with all of the money-making portions of the company – to the West Coast.
DC Comics, the comic book division, is now its own stand-alone entity. An island of old-school publishing left without its support network. This has been hailed as a victory for the comic book people.
It isn’t. It’s a wake up call.
Mason’s piece should be read in full, while we’re waiting for the sure-to-be-filled-with-great-metaphors write-up from Spurge. But one suggestion — that this will eventually lead to WB licensing out comics production of its characters — gets explored.
Meanwhile, what is going on day to day at DC?
Well, don’t expect to hear anything.
Employees going into their HR meetings are being asked to sign NDAs and will not be allowed to talk about their meetings until sometime next month. So lips are zipped. We’d guess this is so that people aren’t unnecessarily influenced by what is happening to their department mates. Or so they don’t blab to blogs. On the other hand, knowing what is happening to your department mates might factor in to your own job situation, so…it all sounds stressful. Very stressful.
In the absence of any actual information — given all of the talk about “things we can’t talk about yet” — are we getting set up for a big Lost-style reveal? Is DC Comics going to set off in a big space ark? Did Diane Nelson travel here from the past? Is Jeff Robinov dreaming the whole thing? Is Jim Lee really a seal?
The rest of the world will find out…some day.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.