Jeff Gordinier
August 20, 1999 AT 04:00 AM EDT

For almost 30 years, the paparazzi had their eyes wide shut to Barry Meyer.

A discreet man with the round spectacles and bushy mustache of a math teacher, Meyer could stroll quietly up the red carpet at a Hollywood premiere while the flashbulb brigade went bonkers for the likes of Kidman and Cruise. The next day, the trade papers would run an obligatory snapshot of Meyer’s bosses, Warner Bros.’ two-decade dynamic duo of Bob Daly and Terry Semel. Meanwhile, Meyer, the studio’s chief operating officer, a 55-year-old guy from the Bronx who’d spent years turning the TV division into Warner Bros.’ cash cow, remained an invisible man, a stealth power broker in an industry blazing with showboaters.

All that changed Aug. 2, when, following cochairmen Daly and Semel’s abrupt July 14 resignation, Time Warner chairman and CEO Gerald Levin steered clear of the usual suspects (Disney’s Joe Roth, DreamWorks’ Jeffrey Katzenberg, CBS’ Leslie Moonves) and picked Meyer to run Warner Bros., the Hollywood colossus behind landmarks like The Maltese Falcon, Bonnie and Clyde, and Unforgiven. (Full disclosure: Time Warner owns EW.)

Plenty of people can testify to the cinematic taste of Meyer’s new Number Two, Warner Bros. president and COO Alan Horn. Horn, after all, is the guy who ran Castle Rock Entertainment; he’s overseen flicks like The Shawshank Redemption and When Harry Met Sally.

Meyer, on the other hand, hails from the less-familiar financial wing of the biz and therefore comes off in the press a bit like the Hugh Grant character in Notting Hill: a smart, decent bookkeeper suddenly thrust into the glare. Some media watchers cite his promotion as evidence of the increased importance of TV in the Warner empire. But, asked to describe him, people in the industry tend to confess that they don’t really know him.

If there is any message to be gleaned from Meyer’s and Horn’s ascension into the showbiz sanctum, it boils down to one word: stability. (Warner Bros. president of production Lorenzo di Bonaventura, at 42, was evidently considered too green for the throne, but so far he’s pledged his fealty to the Meyer-Horn court.) ”It’s not like they’ve brought in these two radical guys to save the world and turn Warner Bros. into the next Miramax,” says manager Lawrence Mattis, whose clients, the writing-directing Wachowski brothers, recently delivered the studio a surprise hit with The Matrix. ”Warner Bros., despite its recent track record, is a very successful machine. You don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.”

The tone is echoed at the top. Interviewed soon after their appointment, Meyer and Horn speak more of equilibrium than creative revolution. ”The goal at Warner Bros. is to produce a balanced slate of films,” says Meyer. ”We’re going to continue making some high-profile, star-vehicle films. We’re going to make some mid-level, medium-budget films. And we’ll make some lower-budget, smaller films. The goal is balance. There’s no intention of changing the way we do business.”

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