The rumblings had been growing stronger all week. By Thursday, everybody at WB Network knew that layoffs were imminent, and that they would affect not only lower-level employees but also some senior executives.
But four days of nervous anticipation did little to soften the blow Friday, when pink slips were handed out formally to about 20 network staffers as part of a broader cost-cutting initiative throughout Warner Bros. and its subsidiaries.
“Gut-wrenching” was how one WB insider described the atmosphere at the network’s Burbank offices Friday as the affected employees were informed of their fates and given the details of their severance packages. “Painful and heartbreaking” was how WB Network chairman Garth Ancier described the process of deciding who to cut in an e-mail sent Friday evening to network staffers.
Senior executives let go included the network’s head of casting, Kathleen Letterie, executive vp casting and talent, who joined WB Network in its infancy, months before its January 1995 on-air debut; and executive vp Tracey Pakosta, co-head of comedy and alternative programming.
Scheduling chief Rusty Mintz, senior vp programming and scheduling, and Tal Rabinowitz, director of comedy development, also were among the prominent executives whose positions were eliminated, a WB Network spokesman confirmed. The WB’s sizable marketing and promotions department, which handles all of the network’s creative advertising, lost several positions, sources said.
Part of worldwide cutsAll told, WB Network has cut about 40 positions -- some of which already were open -- during the past few weeks, between the layoffs implemented Friday and the downsizing last month of about 20 jobs at the Kids’ WB! children’s programming unit. Kids’ WB! was forced to slim its ranks by more than half after its program slate shrunk from 15 hours per week on a Monday-Saturday basis to five hours per week on Saturday starting next month.
The cuts at WB Network are part and parcel of the belt-tightening initiative under way at its parent studio, Warner Bros., which recently acknowledged plans to cut as much as 5 percent of its staff of 8,000 worldwide. Warner Bros. eliminated about 300 positions at the studio in November.
The cost-cutting focus at Warners comes at a time when Time Warner management is under pressure from maverick investor Carl Icahn and others on Wall Street to control overhead costs and re-evaluate spending priorities throughout its disparate film and TV divisions.
WB Network in particular is under pressure as it fights its way through another rocky season. The network has fielded a promising newcomer in Tuesday drama “Supernatural,” but overall the network’s ratings in its target demographics are in decline compared with the 2004-05 season, also a down season for WB.
“The WB, like every other division of Warner Bros., has been asked to do a top-to-bottom analysis of our operations and make sure that we are operating as efficiently as we possibly can,” Ancier said in a statement issued Friday. “In analyzing all of our costs of doing business ... there were many cost savings that we identified, and unfortunately, there are instances where some positions were eliminated.”
In his memo to the staff, Ancier said the process of reviewing the network’s operations to determine where cuts could be made was “challenging and emotional” and an unfortunate reality of the fast-changing media and business landscape.
“The tough decisions we all made over the past few weeks, and executed today, impacted many talented individuals of great dedication to the company. This undertaking was painful and heartbreaking,” Ancier said.
WB’s recent struggles and Time Warner’s cost-cutting crusade have prompted speculation in the industry about the WB’s long-term future, though Warners insiders have scoffed at such chatter and insist that everything remains status quo for the network in its current form as a broadcast-delivered programming service.
“The WB remains a tremendous asset for Warner Bros. and Time Warner,” Ancier said in his memo. “Starting with nothing but an idea in 1995, we have created exceptionally valuable content for exhibition across all platforms as well as a unique brand unto itself.”