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Warner Bros chief quits amid inquiry into whether he helped actress get roles
[LOS ANGELES] Kevin Tsujihara, chief executive of AT&T's recently acquired Warner Bros. studios division, has stepped down after accusations surfaced that he had pushed for a woman with whom he had a sexual relationship to be considered for roles in the company's films and television shows.
Tsujihara, who has worked at the studio for more than two decades, said he made the decision to leave the company after discussing the matter with John Stankey, WarnerMedia's chief executive.
"Over the past week and a half, I have been reflecting on how the attention on my past actions might impact the company's future," Tsujihara wrote in a memo to employees. "After lengthy introspection, and discussions with John Stankey over the past week, we have decided that it is in Warner Bros.' best interest that I step down as chairman and CEO."
The allegations against Tsujihara emerged in a March 6 article in The Hollywood Reporter, which outlined a sexual relationship between Tsujihara, 54, and Charlotte Kirk, an actress in her 20s. The Reporter, quoting from private text messages it obtained, portrayed a situation in which Tsujihara — prompted by Kirk's statements that he had promised to help her career during a meeting at a motel — contacted his lieutenants on her behalf.
"I just need to be careful," Tsujihara, who is married, said in a 2014 text message, according to the trade publication. "Let's look for a movie role."
WarnerMedia said in a statement that the investigation into Tsujihara's behavior would continue despite his departure. When the allegations first came to light, a lawyer for Tsujihara said his client "did not have a direct role in the actress being cast in any movie."
In a separate memo to employees, Stankey said that "Kevin has acknowledged that his mistakes are inconsistent with the company's leadership expectations and could impact the company's ability to execute going forward."
Tsujihara was promoted two weeks ago in a significant management shake-up that gave him additional duties. He was put in charge of WarnerMedia's effort to develop children's content, which will play a significant role in AT&T's streaming business. The telecom giant acquired the studio in June as part of its $85.4 billion acquisition of Time Warner.
The appointment came even as whispers about Tsujihara's alleged conduct circulated in Hollywood for more than a year. Stankey became aware of the allegations in September when he received an email from an anonymous account asking whether an actress had been offered speaking roles in films in exchange for silence about sex with a senior executive. Reporters from 11 publications, including The New York Times, were copied on the anonymous email. At the time, Stankey enlisted law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson to look into the claims.
That investigation concluded without any hit to Tsujihara, and he was promoted in early March. But The Hollywood Reporter article spurred the latest investigation and the renewed scrutiny of the studio head's actions.
Powerful men in Hollywood have been put in the spotlight ever since the #MeToo movement gained momentum, ensnaring men like Brett Ratner, a producer and financier with whom Tsujihara was once close. The Reporter article, written by Tatiana Siegel and Kim Masters, also detailed text messages between Kirk and Ratner involving Tsujihara and acting roles. Ratner has denied accusations of sexual misconduct made by multiple women.
The whiplash of Tsujihara's departure has unnerved the rank and file at Warner Bros., which has been enlisted by AT&T to help jump-start its streaming business. Warner's television studios has been a significant supplier to Hollywood and has sold shows to broadcast networks, cable channels and streaming services like Netflix. AT&T is banking on Warner's operations to help create new shows for its online video operation, which is set to debut by the end of the year.
The transformation started in June when AT&T, based in Dallas, ventured beyond its core business to acquire Time Warner, the home of HBO, the Warner Bros. movie studio, CNN and cable channels like TBS and TNT. The phone giant started to overhaul the media business in earnest last month after the Justice Department lost a second court challenge to the merger and said it would no longer try to block it.
After the green light, AT&T altered its leadership team and named Robert Greenblatt, former head of entertainment at NBC and Showtime, as the new chairman at WarnerMedia. His hiring followed the resignations of Richard Plepler, the longtime chief executive of HBO, and David Levy, president of Turner Broadcasting, the division that includes TBS and TNT.
WarnerMedia said it was starting a search for a successor to Tsujihara, but there are few in Hollywood who have the stature and experience to run a major company like Warner.
Some, however, have been looking for a new job. Stacey Snider will be leaving as head of Twentieth Century Fox studios after The Walt Disney Co. closes its acquisition for the majority of Rupert Murdoch's media empire this week. Thomas Staggs, former chief operating officer of Disney, has been on the shortlist for other top media positions.
Peter Chernin, who was once second in command to Rupert Murdoch when he ran the mogul's film business, has been advising Stankey and could play a role in finding a replacement. Chernin worked with him and AT&T's chief executive, Randall Stephenson, on a joint venture called Otter Media, a company AT&T bought last year.