No exact numbers have been divulged in terms of how many of New Line's staffers will remain, but the surviving entity will be a shell of its former self, refocusing on the horror, comedy and urban genre pics that helped put it on the map decades ago.
Time Warner said New Line would continue to have development, marketing, business affairs and some distribution operations, but its films will go out through the Warner Bros. pipes, a change to be phased in after this weekend's "Semi-Pro."
Warners could use the product. The usually prolific studio had dated only three pics for 2009 and may be able to cherry-pick other New Line fare.
The fate of Time Warner's specialty film divisions, Picturehouse and Warner Independent Pictures, was not addressed in statements or interviews Thursday, but given New Line's oversight of Picturehouse, changes would appear to be in store there, too. Picturehouse prexy Bob Berney had no comment.
Bewkes wouldn't address other operations, but told Daily Variety the consolidation is "a move toward the label model," adding, "New Line will have its own voice, but focus on a smaller slate and franchises they have built. The main operation, the arms and legs, will be at Warner Bros."
The move was not a complete surprise in the wake of Bewkes' first earnings call as chief on Feb. 6. Citing an industry shift toward fewer releases, he said cutbacks at New Line would be central to a plan to save $50 million in costs companywide. Bewkes is under pressure to improve results companywide and budge a stagnant stock.
Contrary to rumors that New Line's patchwork of international output deals would prevent wholesale change, Bewkes said many of those deals were due to expire anyway and said it made sense for New Line to stop selling off international rights to finance films. "With the growing importance of international revenues, it makes sense for New Line to retain its international film rights and to exploit them through Warner Bros.' global distribution infrastructure," he added.
That switch was likely hastened by New Line's decision to sell off pricey fantasy epic "The Golden Compass," only to see it underperform here last December, but deliver abroad. Final domestic cume was $70 million, while international gross has topped $260 million.
In a message to New Line staffers, Shaye and Lynne warned that New Line will probably be a much smaller operation, saying details would be spelled out at meetings Friday in L.A. and Gotham.
"This was a painful decision, because we love New Line, and the people who work here have been like our second families," Shaye and Lynne said. "But we will be leaving the company with enormous pride in what all of us at New Line have accomplished together. From its humble beginnings 40 years ago, our studio has created some of the most popular and successful movies of all time."
Toby Emmerich and Rolf Mittweg are among the execs staying on for the time being, Bewkes said. The unit will report to Alan Horn and Barry Meyer.
The curtain fell just four years after "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" vaulted New Line to the pinnacle of the film biz. The third installment of the ultra-risky $270 million trilogy won the best picture Oscar and grossed $1.1 billion worldwide.
The three films together were a cultural event and the stuff of movie lore, bringing in billions in B.O. and merchandise coin. Rejected by other studios, Jackson found a home for his JRR Tolkien obsession at New Line, which rolled the dice on an 18-month shoot in New Zealand by a helmer with no prior studio hits to his name.
Since then, however, New Line had fallen on harder times. Its lone breakout post-"Rings" was "Wedding Crashers," an R-rated comedy that tallied $209 million in summer 2005.
In the absence of hits came several grim headlines. Shaye waged an expensive -- and ultimately unsuccessful -- legal fight against "Rings" director Peter Jackson over gross receipts from the pics. He also quarreled with favored son Brett Ratner over back-end deals for "Rush Hour 3," an on-and-off project that finally came out last August, taking in a so-so $140 million. And Shaye opted to take time out from running the company to direct "The Last Mimzy," a bland kidpic that grossed just $21.5 million last year.
Founded by Shaye in his Greenwich Village apartment in 1967 (Lynne, a Columbia Law School classmate, would join in 1990), New Line originally trafficked in a checkered mix of auteur films like Godard's "Sympathy for the Devil" and midnight movies like "Reefer Madness" and early John Waters fare.
After years of hand-to-mouth existence, the company reached a new level of stability thanks to the 1980s homevid boom and the startling $25.5 million take from slasher pic "Nightmare on Elm Street" in 1984.
Having survived brushes with insolvency, the company became expert at serving the teen and twentysomething aud, pioneering the use of street teams and campus screenings. After "Nightmare" came profitable franchises like "House Party," "Friday," "Blade," "Austin Powers" and "Rush Hour."
With its newfound success came two acquisitions -- one by Ted Turner, the other by Time Warner -- that made Shaye a billionaire.
The company's current woes mirror the time just before "Rings" hit the jackpot. Emboldened by its great run in the 1990s under wunderkind production chief Michael De Luca, New Line made profligate choices with Adam Sandler's "Little Nicky" and Warren Beatty starrer "Town & Country."
Time Warner chairman Dick Parsons, then chief exec of AOL Time Warner, was quoted as saying of the company at the time, "New Line makes movies, and any company that makes movies is going to have some hits and it's going to have some misses."
(Winter Miller in New York and Pamela McClintock in Hollywood contributed to this report.)