LOS ANGELES - Warner Bros. Chief Executive Officer Kevin Tsujihara is leaving the studio over allegations that he had a sexual relationship with an actress he helped promote, adding to the number of Hollywood moguls toppled by scandal.
Tsujihara brings fresh upheaval to a business acquired by AT&T Inc. last year, underscoring the challenges of transforming itself from a telecom giant into a media conglomerate. John Stankey, head of the company’s WarnerMedia, announced Tsujihara’s departure on Monday, saying the disgraced executive had brought risk to the company.
“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.,” Stankey said. “Kevin acknowledges that his mistakes are inconsistent with the company’s leadership expectations and could impact the company’s ability to execute going forward.”
The 54-year-old executive had an affair with actress Charlotte Kirk and helped her get roles in movies, according to a report in the Hollywood Reporter. The magazine also alleged the relationship was linked to a $450 million film-financing deal to back movies produced by the Burbank, California-based studio.
Tsujihara is the latest high-profile Hollywood figure accused of impropriety since the #MeToo movement put heavier scrutiny on the industry and its executives. The revelations came the same week that AT&T handed the executive an expanded role in a management overhaul of WarnerMedia, the studio’s parent unit.
A previous investigation of Tsujihara’s relationship with Kirk, commissioned by Warner Bros., found no evidence of misconduct. The executive is married and has children.
Tsujihara, who has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern California and an MBA from Stanford University, was appointed to lead the studio in 2013 after years working on the home-entertainment side of the business.
He rose to the top of Warner Bros., over competing internal candidates with more experience in movies and TV, because of his experience in digital and home entertainment. The scandal brings his 25-year career at the studio to an end.
The move also means Time Warner’s executive leadership has been wholly transformed since AT&T acquired the business for $85 billion last year. In another change Monday, Bernadette Aulestia will be leaving as HBO’s president of global distribution. CNBC previously reported that she was stepping down.
The company doesn’t have a successor to Tsujihara lined up yet, but WarnerMedia plans to announce interim leadership on Tuesday, Stankey said in a separate memo.
AT&T plans to continuing working with an outside law firm to complete an investigation into Tsujihara, with his cooperation.
The Hollywood Reporter, citing hundreds of leaked texts, said Tsujihara arranged meetings between Kirk and Warner Bros. executives working on film and TV projects. Kirk appeared in two Warner Bros. movies, “How to Be Single” in 2016 and “Ocean’s 8” in 2018. She also auditioned for other projects at Warner Bros. and Millennium Films, the publication said.
Kirk met Tsujihara through Australian billionaire James Packer and producer Brett Ratner, two filmmakers involved in the financing deal with Warner Bros. The Hollywood Reporter published extensive exchanges between Kirk and Tsujihara, in which she asks about TV and film roles. The text messages also referred to a sexual relationship between the British actress and Tsujihara.
Kirk confirmed that she had a romantic relationship with Packer — and communications with Tsujihara and Ratner. But she has denied that the men did anything untoward. She also denied being the source of the leaked texts.