What is it with CEOs and sexting scandals? On the heels of Jeff Bezos comes Warner Brothers’ boss Kevin Tsujihara, who landed in hot water after The Hollywood Reporter published a story last week about an affair and text messages exchanged between Tsujihara and actress Charlotte Kirk. Is it gross? Yes. Does it feed into the worst assumptions about Hollywood? Totally. Is it surprising this story even got published? Absolutely. Two years ago, a Hollywood boss having an affair is not headline news. But today? Tsujihara is issuing apology memos, and might lose his job. That he might KEEP his job is evidence of everything that hasn’t changed since the Weinstein scandal, but that a trade exposed a Hollywood boss for an affair is evidence that SOMETHING has changed.
This story isn’t entirely out of the blue. Tsujihara had a reputation as a partier, and was known to hang out with Brett Ratner—who appears in this sexting scandal telling Kirk “…if you are going to be f-cking someone for a part it should be a director or a producer”—so you can imagine the tone of the stories that circulated about the studio boys club. But unlike Ratner, Tsujihara weathered the #MeToo reckoning, and in fact, his new AT&T overlords expanded his power as Chairman and CEO of Warners, adding to his purview a kids and YA division. Irony! It’s for everyone.
As nothing criminal happened here, the question isn’t if Tsujihara will be in trouble, but if he gets to keep his job. AT&T just took control of Time Warner, renaming it WarnerMedia, and they’re in the midst of reorganizing. Does having a party-time CEO embroiled in a sexting scandal fit into the Texas-based AT&T management profile? Hollywood tolerated a kind of Caligulan madness from its overlords for a century, but Hollywood today is largely run by people that Are Not Hollywood. It’s clear the AT&T brass had faith in Tsujihara as a studio chief, or they wouldn’t have kept him on through their reorganization (his counterpart at HBO, Richard Plepler, wasn’t so lucky despite ushering in the Game of Thrones era). But now he’s headlining a scandal, and maybe contravening some employment laws in California, so we’ll have to see if AT&T decides this is too much Hollywood for their taste.
But I can’t stress enough how amazing it is this story even got published. Two years ago, it was unthinkable anyone would bother reporting on a Hollywood executive having an affair with an aspiring actress. If it did get published, it would be as a joke—that she sure didn’t get much out of it other than Brett Ratner giving her the gears for not f-cking him, instead. But now, not only is this story published, but Tsujihara is apologizing on the record and he might still lose his job. I’m a little skeptical it goes that far, but that it’s even a possibility is a sea change. Everything is not better and the changes aren’t as sweeping as they could be, but at least there is now SOME accountability. Taking advantage of people is FINALLY being stigmatized in Hollywood.