“It is in the best interest of WarnerMedia, Warner Bros., our employees and our partners for Kevin to step down as Chairman and CEO of Warner Bros.,” WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey said in a statement. “Kevin has contributed greatly to the studio’s success over the past 25 years and for that we thank him. Kevin acknowledges that his mistakes are inconsistent with the Company’s leadership expectations and could impact the Company’s ability to execute going forward.”
WarnerMedia continues to work with a third-party law firm to complete its investigation, with Tsujihara’s cooperation, in the wake of texts that were dropped in the trades revolving around the executive’s alleged involvement in having British actress Charlotte Kirk cast in Warners movies Ocean’s 8 and How to Be Single following an extramarital affair. WarnerMedia has yet to name a successor for Tsujihara. The company will name an interim leadership team on Tuesday.
While a shocker, Tsujihara’s fate was known to be hanging on whether the third and latest corporate investigation into his relationship with Kirk unveiled new evidence or incidents. The news follows a recent expansion of Tsujihara’s role in the WarnerMedia empire, in which he was to lead a new global kids and young adults business for new media conglom in the wake of AT&T’s $85 billion purchase and re-organization of Time Warner.
Below is the memo issued to staff by Tsujihara:
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. 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.
I love this company and the people that make it so great. I’ve been honored to head this organization and work alongside all of its talented employees over the past 25 years. Together we’ve built this studio into an unequivocal leader in the industry.
However, it has become clear that my continued leadership could be a distraction and an obstacle to the company’s continued success. The hard work of everyone within our organization is truly admirable, and I won’t let media attention on my past detract from all the great work the team is doing.
I am overwhelmed and grateful for the outpouring of support I have received from colleagues and industry partners during this difficult time.
Again, I am so proud of the great work that you do every day to make Warner Bros. the gold standard in our industry. It has been a pleasure to work alongside each and every one of you, and I wish you all the absolute best.
Among Warners insiders, Tsujihara is a respected executive and we hear many are saddened by his departure. Tsujihara promoted diversity and tubthumped innovative business initiatives such as premium VOD, and the Kirk incident to some on the lot is considered a misstep; a bad choice made by a good guy.
Prior to the recent batch of texts being dumped in THR, the news about Warners’ investigation into Tsujihara’s affair with Kirk was already out there. However, the executive finally came clean about his mistakes in an internal studio memo March 8 in which he said, “I also deeply regret that these personal actions have caused embarrassment to the company and to all of you…I realized some time ago you are right to expect more from me and I set a course to do better.”
Two days prior to when the recent news surrounding the texts became public, a WarnerMedia rep said, “Through her spokesperson, the actress has publicly denied any impropriety in her casting, and our prior investigation did not find otherwise. Whenever we receive new allegations, it is our standard practice to conduct an appropriate investigation…And that is what we will do here.”
“Mr. Tsujihara did not have a direct role in the actress being cast in any movie,” added the WB CEO’s attorney Bert Deixler at the time. That said, it has been reported Tsujihara made introductions on behalf of Kirk, and she landed small parts in Ocean’s 8 and How to Be Single.
Tsujihara took the top spot at Warner Bros in 2014 and each year has seen successive growth financially, capped by a record high-water year in 2018 across all key financial metrics for the studio (revenue, gross profit, adjusted operating income). He revitalized DC across film, television and publishing, extended the Harry Potter Wizarding World including the Fantastic Beasts film franchise, is responsible for WB being the only studio with a full-scale games business seeded by his acquisition of TT Games, and has expanded operations in the TV group to make WB the dominant producer in the industry (100 shows in production in 2018).
Prior to serving as CEO, Tsujihara was president of Warner Bros Home Entertainment, which included home video, digital distribution, video games, anti-piracy and emerging technology operations, a post he assumed at WBHE’s founding in October 2005. At WBHE, he was known for leading the company through the first wave of the digital transition, was a big voice in ushering Blu-ray and digital delivery platforms and business models. Tsujihara also was key in creating Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, the only studio-based video game company in the industry, with revenues exceeding $1B annually.
Previous to WBHE, Tsujihara served as EVP Corporate Business Development & Strategy, Warner Bros Entertainment and, before that, EVP New Media, responsible for the oversight of all Warner Bros’ new media endeavors. He joined Warner Bros in 1994 as Director, Special Projects, Finance. He later went on to assist in the management of the company’s interest in Six Flags.
Last week, THR reported that Millennium Films CEO Avi Lerner “seemingly with a push from (Brett) Ratner” assisted the 26-year-old Kirk in securing roles including a female version of The Expendables which was never made, and the 2016 Liev Schreiber boxing drama Chuck. There was also an attempt to cast Kirk in Millenium/Lionsgate’s latest comic book action reboot Hellboy, which was supported by the pic’s director Neil Marshall but reportedly resisted by the pic’s producer Lawrence Gordon.
In response to that news, Kirk broke her silence exclusively with Deadline last week, calling the Hellboy news “nonsensical.”
“Neil saw my audition and believed I was the best actor for the role, simple as that,’ she said. “The character of Alice was written as a 26-year-old East End girl with strawberry blonde hair and an attitude – that’s me in a nutshell! Avi supported Neil’s choice because he believed in the director’s vision for the movie. Unfortunately, they were both overruled by Larry Gordon, because he controlled the rights. At the end of the day, that’s show business, and instead I went on to play the title role in the feature film Nicole and OJ.”
Kirk also said that in regards to the THR report, “I had nothing to do with the publication of this story. There are assumptions being made that somehow I was responsible for the release of the texts, and that is simply not true. When I heard that THR might publish it, I implored them not to, but obviously to no avail.
“Secondly, these articles refer to events from six years ago, back in 2013. I was a different person then. I was 19 years old, newly arrived in LA, possibly a little arrogant and definitely very naive. I acknowledge I may have made some poor choices and I’m sorry for that, but I’ve learned from my mistakes since then and have grown a lot, as a person, as a woman, and as a professional actor.”