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The Very Model of a Modern Media Manager

AOL Time Warner's Jeff Bewkes is seen as unflappable, but his cool could be tested at the company's annual meeting today.

May 16, 2003|Michael Cieply and Edmund Sanders | Times Staff Writers

According to one intimate, Levin, the now-retired AOL Time Warner CEO, never forgave Bewkes for sidestepping the challenge of running Warner Bros. when the company's longtime chiefs Bob Daly and Terry Semel left in 1999. (Others dispute whether Bewkes was ever offered the Warner post.) Levin, who bypassed Bewkes when he was looking for his own successor, couldn't be reached.

Perhaps because of his front-row seat during the merger turmoil, Bewkes shows no patience for those who violate his sense of order. The effect in at least two cases, associates say, has been to undercut productive managers who seemed to mimic Bewkes' own directness but also were seen as overstepping their bounds.

After Bewkes took charge in July, Warner Production Chief Lorenzo di Bonaventura, who helped secure billions of dollars by fostering such franchises as "The Matrix" and "Harry Potter," clashed with Warner President Alan Horn. In New York for a late-summer film premiere, Di Bonaventura called on Bewkes. On returning to Los Angeles, he was pushed out of the company, with Bewkes' assent, by Horn and Warner Chairman Barry Meyer. Di Bonaventura, now a producer, declined to comment on his departure, as did Meyer.

A few months later, Meyer fired Warren Lieberfarb, the legendary and difficult Warner home video chief who boosted profits across the industry by pioneering the DVD and using it to make movies a retail commodity.

Lieberfarb had pressed to reorganize the studio to unify strategy for theatrical, video, DVD and pay-per-view releases. In the resulting friction, he was ousted, while Bewkes largely stood aside. Lieberfarb and Meyer declined to comment.

The new entertainment chairman has loosened the reins on division heads while focusing on strategy -- for instance, by developing a still-unfolding "digital initiative" to guide his businesses past piracy to an electronic future. As to CNN's competition with Fox, eroding music sales or questions about his studios' next act after "The Matrix" and "The Lord of the Rings,"he has left those issues to operating chiefs who describe themselves more as Bewkes' colleagues than underlings.

Nevins, the HBO programmer, finds that consistent with the Bewkes she admires.

"He acknowledges you," she explained. But she added: "I don't know if that helps a guy win a ballgame."

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Portfolio

As AOL Time Warner's entertainment and networks chairman, Jeffrey Bewkes oversees one of the entertainment industry's biggest operations, including:

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Film and TV production:

Warner Bros. Entertainment

New Line Cinema

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Music:

Warner Music Group

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Cable channels:

HBO

CNN

TBS

TNT

Turner Classic Movies

Cartoon Network

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Broadcast network:

The WB (partial interest)

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Sources: Baseline, Times research

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