190309 Kevin Tsujihara
Kevin Tsujihara Image Credit: AP

Warner Bros Chairman and Chief Executive Kevin Tsujihara on Friday apologised to staff at the TV and film studio, referring to embarrassing “mistakes in my personal life” after a report revealed he had an affair with an actress who was later cast in Warner Bros movies.

The Burbank studio’s parent company, AT&T Inc-owned WarnerMedia, said on Wednesday that it would investigate the matter after the Hollywood Reporter published an extensive and detailed story based partly on salacious texts between actress Charlotte Kirk and Tsujihara, 54.

Kirk, who is British and in her 20s, eventually appeared in small roles in two Warner Bros movies: the 2018 female-focused franchise reboot ‘Ocean’s 8’ and 2016’s romantic comedy ‘How to Be Single.’

“I deeply regret that I have made mistakes in my personal life that have caused pain and embarrassment to the people I love the most,” Tsujihara said in an emailed memo to staff. “I also deeply regret that these personal actions have caused embarrassment to the company and to all of you. I realised some time ago you are right to expect more from me and I set a course to do better. That journey continues.”

The scandal comes at a pivotal time for WarnerMedia, which recently expanded Tsujihara’s duties to include oversight of animation throughout the company, including such key brands as Cartoon Network and Adult Swim.

AT&T took over the company formerly known as Time Warner Inc last year, and has recently made its mark on the company by making major changes at HBO and Turner. The company on Monday tapped former NBC chief Bob Greenblatt to run HBO and Turner networks TNT and TBS. HBO chief Richard Plepler and Turner President David Levy announced their departures late last month amid the shakeup.

WarnerMedia had previously looked into allegations of inappropriate behaviour by Tsujihara and did not turn up anything amiss about Kirk’s casting, the company said on Wednesday.

Tsujihara has not been accused of harassment or sexual misconduct, but appeared to exhibit poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair with a then-21-year-old actress.

The published texts raised fresh questions about how WarnerMedia had handled the matter and whether Tsujihara had disclosed the text messages to the company’s outside lawyers who were investigating the claims.

“Since WarnerMedia’s leadership became aware of details surrounding this situation some time ago, it has carefully reviewed the matter and handled appropriately, including having engaged a third-party law firm to conduct a series of inquiries,” Tsujihara said in the email. “Following these most recent news reports, the company will again work with a third-party law firm to review the situation, and I will cooperate fully with this investigation.”

Such investigations are typical following accusations of misconduct. But some experts have questioned the thoroughness of such probes.

Nancy Erika Smith, a partner at Smith Mullin, who has worked on sexual harassment cases, said there is an “inherent conflict of interest” of having in-house counsel or the outside counsel they hire do such an investigation. She said such investigations are often a “fig leaf” with more “form over substance.”

“There is an inherent bias in favour of the company,” Smith said. “Usually they say these claims can’t be substantiated.”

The texts appeared to provide a rare window into Hollywood’s infamous “casting couch” culture in which sex is exchanged for a shot at fame or access to power.

“I don’t usually call about casting about these types of roles,” Tsujihara wrote to Kirk in response to an inquiry about a television show, according to the Hollywood Reporter story. “It’s fine, I just need to be careful.”

Tsujihara’s attorney, Bert H Deixler, said this week: “Mr Tsujihara had no direct role in the hiring of this actress.”

The grandson of Japanese immigrants and the son of a Northern California egg farmer, Tsujihara was named chief executive of Warner Bros in 2013, after a two-year battle to succeed Barry Meyer as the head of the nearly century-old company. He was seen as an unlikely choice for the top job, having run the less-than-glamorous home video division, where he also oversaw video games.