Garth Ancier Returns to WB as Chairman

Oct 6, 2003  •  Post A Comment

The WB announced a changing of the guard last week, but incoming chairman Garth Ancier said not that much will change.
“Jordan [Levin] and Jed [Petrick] and I have all worked together for a long time,” said Mr. Ancier, who will be responsible for big-picture strategic planning at the network. “They’ve all been here since the beginning of The WB. I was the heretic who left and went to NBC for two years. They stayed. We all know and trust each other to a great degree. We’d always agree on things, but we’d always consult with each other and work out our differences of opinions between ourselves.”
When WB Chairman and CEO Jamie Kellner steps down at the end of the 2003-04 TV season, Mr. Ancier will take over his chairman duties, and current WB Entertainment President Mr. Levin will become CEO. Mr. Petrick remains president and chief operating officer.
Mr. Ancier’s and Mr. Levin’s titles immediately change to co-chairman and co-CEO, respectively, and they will share those duties with Mr. Kellner until he leaves. Both report to Warner Bros. Entertainment Chairman and CEO Barry Meyer. Mr. Petrick, who currently reports to Mr. Kellner, will report to Mr. Levin.
Mr. Ancier, who has the distinction of having been entertainment president at three broadcast networks (The WB, Fox and NBC), said there are some plans and projects he has already jumped into, but he declined to divulge specifics for competitive reasons.
“There are things we can do that are going to continue to make the network even more competitive than it has become,” Mr. Ancier said. “It’s just a question of how do we continue to solidify our brand and become the most important brand in television for 18- to 34-year-old adults in this country.”
The WB was founded eight years ago by Mr. Kellner, who recognized that there was no broadcast network trying to reach young viewers for whom advertisers would pay a premium. The goal was to attract 12- to 34-year-old viewers, and since the network’s inception, it’s done just that. The WB’s prime time has grown 50 percent in persons 12 to 34 and 67 percent in adults 18 to 49 since it began in the 1994-95 season. The WB also has the youngest viewership, with a median age of 31.
Mr. Ancier will be faced with the challenge of maintaining and increasing The WB’s young demo dominance as well as the network’s profitability, which it achieved just last year. Only two other broadcast networks-NBC and CBS-are profitable.
The WB has done a particularly good job of cornering the market on young female viewers by creating a string of signature shows for them, such as “7th Heaven,” “Dawson’s Creek,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Gilmore Girls.”
The WB’s identity of being the purveyor of all things young and hip is not something any of the newly promoted leadership plans to change. Mr. Ancier said his goal is for The WB to be the No. 1 network in adults 18 to 34. “From a pure advertiser standpoint, teenagers are an important part of our business, but I think 18 to 34 is really the meat and potatoes of our business,” he said.
“The reason you talk about 12 to 34 is you want to be recruiting those 12-year-olds to become part of your 18 to 34 base as a network. Your 18 to 34 base is what makes you so important to marketers who are trying to reach that critical age range of people who are doing the firsts in life-buying their first car, getting married or buying life insurance for the first time.”
One thing The WB won’t be doing anytime soon is expanding to a seventh night. A few years ago, The WB gave Saturday prime time back to its affiliates in exchange for the 5 p.m.-to-7 p.m. block on Sundays, where the network has been running same-week repeats of its series under the label “Easy View.”
“Saturday night’s been a really difficult night for every network,” Mr. Ancier said. “I don’t really see Saturday night as something we’re ever going to do. It’s certainly not a priority for me or anyone else.”
Two of Mr. Ancier’s longtime colleagues will make up the triumvirate that will run The WB. Mr. Levin, who started as head of comedy development and current programming at The WB’s inception, will run the day-to-day operations of the network as CEO.
Mr. Petrick, who is part of The WB’s original management team, also worked with Mr. Kellner and Mr. Ancier at Fox Broadcasting Co. and helped build that network. Mr. Petrick oversees advertising sales, network distribution, broadcast standards, research, administration, human resources, The WB 100+ Station Group and Kids’ WB.
Those long-term ties make The WB’s management-by-committee approach work, the executives said.
“Because there is great respect for each other, you can have open, candid debate and not worry about harming the relationship,” Mr. Petrick said. “We all like each other. We’re all competitive. We’ve been put together, each of us with a set of complementary skills, which would say to me why the management structure makes sense.”
Mr. Levin said The WB’s management changes were “preordained to be one of the more seamless transitions in the media business.”
“Over the course of almost the last decade we’ve played a lot of musical chairs in terms of titles and responsibilities in the company without there being a significant bump in the road, because the nature of the leadership at The WB is so collaborative and coordinated,” Mr. Levin said. “Obviously, Jamie leaving is significant not so much for a day-to-day managerial standpoint, but from an overall leadership standpoint. But he crafted such a clear vision for the network and put such stable management in place that we know where we are going and there’s no real crisis of vision.”
While management by committee sounds ideal, titles do kick in if there is a major disagreement among top executives, Mr. Levin said. But, “It’s so rare when that does happen, because usually you start to head in a direction that makes the most sense. Fortunately, there’s not a lot of `I told you so.’ Once a decision is made, we’re in it together.”
Mr. Levin said he plans to continue to be the head programmer at the network and not name a new entertainment president to replace himself. Because each of the department heads have been at the network for many years and have the autonomy to run their areas of expertise, he said, he can devote the necessary time to programming.
When he was named entertainment president of The WB in 2001 Mr. Levin-then age 33-became one of the youngest network presidents in history. Now 36, he is one of the television industry’s youngest CEOs. He has had a hand in developing almost all of the network’s hit programming, such as “Smallville,” “Felicity,” “Gilmore Girls,” “Reba” and “Charmed.” He has a reputation among studio executives and producers for his ability to build and maintain relationships.
The WB is the second start-up network Mr. Ancier has worked for, having worked under Mr. Kellner in the early days of Fox. Some things were easier the second time, but others were harder, he said.
“What was harder at Fox was all my colleagues at NBC [his employer at the time] were saying you can’t start a fourth television network,” he said. “There was such widespread skepticism of the thing ever working that it created a patina of doubt that we didn’t have to go through this time.”
However, distribution was a much bigger problem when starting up The WB. Far fewer television stations were available to be affiliates of a new network, and there was more competition from cable. Plus, Chris-Craft Industries and Paramount were starting UPN at the same time, so they were fighting for the same TV stations to be affiliates, he said.
Mr. Ancier joined The WB as its first entertainment president, a position he held for five years until he moved to NBC in the same capacity in 1999. He rejoined Time Warner in 2001 when he took the position of executive VP of programming for Turner Broadcasting System under Mr. Kellner, who was then running TBS.
Mr. Ancier, who was commuting back and forth between Los Angeles and Atlanta, returned to L.A
. earlier this year when Mr. Kellner left TBS, and control of The WB was returned to the Warner Bros. fold.
Mr. Ancier said he knew he would be getting the nod to help replace Mr. Kellner when he moved back. “We talked about this for some time,” he said.
The opportunity to work for Time Warner again was one of the reasons Mr. Ancier returned to L.A. “They’ve always treated me very well and I feel at home here,” he said. “When you are fortunate enough to simply move divisions, which is all I’m really doing, it’s seamless. We made the announcement, and the next minute you are doing the job. You get to change your Amex card so it has a different division name at the bottom. But you keep your same telephone numbers, same computers, same office. I even keep my parking space. Everything stays the same.”