By FRANK SWERTLOW
Now that the smoke has cleared from the executive shuffle at Warner Bros., one executive emerging as a key Hollywood player is Richard Parsons, president of Time Warner Inc., which owns the studio.
Except Parsons won't be in Hollywood. He will remain in New York, leading to speculation at Warner as well other studios that the corporate reins are tightening.
"The power has shifted back to New York," said Harold Vogel, an independent financial analyst. "In the past, the film operation has been run like a private fiefdom."
Last week, Barry Meyer, who had been chief operating officer at Warner Bros., was named chairman, replacing departing co-chairmen Bob Daly and Terry Semel. Much of Meyer's experience has been in the world of television, where he negotiated deals, including the $13 million per episode renewal of "ER" at NBC.
Assisting him will be Alan Horn, chairman of Castle Rock Entertainment, another division of Time Warner, who was named president of the studio.
Technically, Meyer reports to Time Warner chairman Gerald Levin, just as Daly and Semel did. But for practical purposes he will report to Levin "through" Parsons, according to Barbara Brogliotti, a spokeswoman for Warner Bros.
What this means, according to Vogel, is that Parsons becomes the studio's point man in New York.
"With Dick Parsons, Jerry Levin and (Time Warner vice chairman) Ted Turner are now reading the same page strategically," Vogel said. "They will be setting the agenda, not division heads in Los Angeles."
But Brogliotti insisted that Meyer would be in charge of the fate of Warner Bros., not Parsons. "(Parsons) is the facilitator, the glue to the big picture, and making sure everyone is working as a team," she said.
Steve Cesinger, an investment banker specializing in the entertainment industry at Greif & Co., said Turner is especially focused on streamlining the industry's free-spending ways.
"There is no question that the purse strings are watched more closely today than in the past," Cesinger said. "And that is what you will be seeing at Warner Bros."
Parsons, 51, was appointed president of Time Warner in 1995 after a career in banking. He is known for his deal-making and negotiating skills and has been credited with bringing financial discipline to the many diverse and fractious divisions of the entertainment company.
An attorney, Parsons is also positioned to replace Levin as the head of Time Warner.
For years, Warner Bros. under Daly and Semel dominated Hollywood's box office derby. But those successes have dimmed somewhat. One of this summer's disappointments is "Wild Wild West," which reportedly cost around $150 million to make and has so far earned $109 million.
Another disappointment is "Eyes Wide Shut," which has seen attendance drop off sharply each week. "The Matrix," however, was a solid smash with nearly $170 million at the box office.
Since announcing their resignations, Daly and Semel have been pictured in some media accounts as high-flying moguls who lavished huge salaries, perks and production deals on established stars, directors and producers.
While these tactics once worked with big-name players, the industry has changed in recent years. Many of the most successful films have starred lesser-known and more youthful actors.
Levin has said that Daly and Semel have been unfairly attacked in the media and Brogliotti said that to portray the financial plans of two executives as fiscally irresponsible would be "naive."
"They had 16 straight years of record earnings," she said. "Jerry Levin had not a moment's problem with them. Everybody approved their budgets, and they always had a five-year plan."
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