Just eight months after acquiring the media and entertainment conglomerate Time Warner, AT&T is facing its first major public relations challenge. On Wednesday, The Hollywood Reporter broke a story alleging that Warner Bros. studio chief Kevin Tsujihara is embroiled in a casting couch scandal, in which he allegedly promised to help a young British actress land roles in Warner Bros. TV shows and movies after the two met at the Hotel Bel-Air in 2013 and began a relationship.
The actress, Charlotte Kirk, was 21 at the time and was introduced to Tsujihara, who is married, by James Packer, the Australian billionaire and a partner in producer Brett Ratner’s RatPac Entertainment. At the time Packer and Ratner—who was accused by several women of sexual assault in 2017 and has not been active in Hollywood since—were working to close a $450 million financing deal with Warner Bros. After Packer set up the Hotel Bel-Air meeting between Kirk and Tsujihara, Kirk texted him: “His [sic] not very nice! Very pushy!! He just wants to fuck nothing else does not even want To say anything!” Packer wrote back: “U OK?” and “Be cool.”
The saga evolved in a long, drawn-out back-and-forth on text between Packer, Ratner, Tsujihara, and Kirk, with the latter demanding meetings with casting directors and producers, while the men responded with vague promises of meetings and calls with executives and, once, in the case of Ratner, accusing Kirk of “extortion.”
In early 2015, Kirk texted Tsujihara saying, “You’re very busy I know but when we were in that motel having sex u said u would help me and when u just ignore me like you’re doing now it makes me feel used. Are u going to help me like u said u would?” Tsujihara wrote back: “Sorry you feel that way. Richard will be reaching out to u tonight.” The reference was to Richard Brener, then president of production at Warners’ New Line label.
Ultimately, Kirk was cast in small roles in two Warner films: Ocean’s 8 and How To Be Single.
Kirk denied that Tsujihara engaged in any inappropriate behavior. And WarnerMedia, as the new mega-conglom is now called, said that it had previously investigated the claims but would review the issue again. Last year, following the misconduct allegations against Ratner, Warner Bros. did not renew its deal with RatPac Entertainment.
The news comes just days after WarnerMedia announced its new leadership structure in which Tsujihara is one of CEO John Stankey’s top lieutenants with added responsibilities overseeing animation—including the Cartoon Network and Adult Swim—and consumer products. Other areas of the company are also being restructured: Longtime HBO chairman and CEO Richard Plepler stepped down last week just days before former NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt was named the new head of WarnerMedia Entertainment, which will have him overseeing HBO, TBS, and TNT, as well as WarnerMedia’s upcoming streaming service.
As to whether Tsujihara will weather the scandal, it’s hard to believe that Stankey only learned of the allegations after WarnerMedia promoted Tsujihara. But #MeToo allegations have rocked Hollywood ever since Harvey Weinstein was accused of multiple counts of sexual misconduct in late 2017—he is now facing a criminal trial in New York for rape and sexual misconduct. Among those whose careers have been derailed because of allegations are former CBS chairman and CEO Les Moonves, actor Kevin Spacey, and Amazon Studios’ Roy Price. Former Pixar and Walt Disney Animation creative head John Lasseter exited his post there in the wake of accusations of inappropriate behavior, but has resurfaced as the head of animation at Skydance Entertainment. The move has received criticism, and the actress Emma Thompson removed herself from a Skydance project because of Lasseter, yet he has retained his new post.
Tsujihara is the latest test of how much public perception will matter to an entertainment conglomerate, particularly one that is embarking on a new era under new leadership. Another factor in Tsujihara’s fate will be whether the reported allegations represent the whole case against him, or whether they’re just the tip of the iceberg.