Fri, Mar 09, 2001 EST
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AOL Time Warner Merges WB Network, Turner
Cable Networks

By David Bauder   Associated Press
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NEW YORK — AOL Time Warner announced Tuesday that it is merging the WB broadcast network and the Turner cable networks under one group led by the WB's chief executive, Jamie Kellner.

Terence McGuirk, a 28-year Turner veteran who has been chairman of Turner Broadcasting, will become a part-time vice chairman under Kellner.

The move creates the nation's largest television group, with the WB, TBS, TNT, Turner Classic Movies, the Cartoon Network and all of the CNN networks under Kellner's watch.

Kellner founded the WB in 1993 with Warner Bros. and the Tribune Company. He was president of the Fox Broadcasting Co. from 1986 to 1993.

Bob Pittman, co-chief operating officer of AOL Time Warner, said the move was precipitated by McGuirk's desire to take a less active role in the company. The new Turner Broadcasting System allows greater opportunities to combine forces creatively, through promotion and in advertising sales, he said.

"We clearly have very complementary assets there," he said.

Pittman would not say whether anyone would lose their jobs through the move, although he did say most of the cuts were behind the company. CNN had in recent months laid off about 400 employees and, separately, there were about 100 job cuts at Turner Broadcasting in Atlanta.

"I don't think this is about cuts," Pittman said. "I think this is about how we build the best organization and the best products that we can. I think we've gone through the period where we had consolidation."

Kellner said he wanted to explore more ways to use programming across the different networks, meaning, for example, some of the WB's series may find their way onto TNT or TBS.

With the exception of a minor setback last year, the WB has grown steadily since its formation behind hits like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Dawson's Creek." It is most popular among teens and young adults.

The WB also has been strong in children's programming, with the potential to join forces with The Cartoon Network.

Kellner, with no direct news experience, said he would leave editorial judgments at CNN to the management there. He's most interested in ways to better promote the news networks, which executives have regarded as a weakness.

CNN, once the undisputed leader in cable news, has seen its viewership drop due to increased competition with Fox News Channel, CNBC and MSNBC.

"I'm a great admirer of CNN and love what they do," Kellner said. "They've made a number of changes to their format over the last couple of months. Right now I think we should just let it breathe and let the audience grow with the programming."

As head of Turner Broadcasting, Kellner will also have ultimate oversight of the Atlanta Braves, Atlanta Hawks and Atlanta Thrashers sports teams, as well as the Goodwill Games.

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