Six Flags Rides Upswing

Burke's departure sparks a revival in shares of the amusement park operator.
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Bugs Bunny is shaping up as a linchpin in the

Six Flags

(PKS)

turnaround.

The Oklahoma City, Okla., thrill ride company is in the midst of a transition that has some Wall Street wags speculating about a move into Hollywood. Big shareholder Dan Snyder, who also owns the National Football League's Washington Redskins, last month prevailed in a proxy battle. He celebrated by kicking out CEO

Kieran Burke, after Burke oversaw a period of poor performance and failed to find a buyer.

Now, new chief Mark Shapiro wants to remake the company's image, from an operator of roller coasters to a provider of family entertainment. For now, those plans rely in part on exploiting the Looney Tunes and DC Comics cartoon characters Six Flags has licensed from

Time Warner's

(TWX)

Warner Bros.

"We need to back focus off of roller-coasters and on to the basics of being a provider of great family experiences," says Shapiro, who noted in recent visits to Six Flags parks that Elmer Fudd-clad characters were sorely lacking. Shapiro, a well-respected former ESPN programming honcho, also wants to improve lighting and landscaping at the 30 parks and to bolster entertainment offerings.

The stock has had a bumpy ride over the last two years but has recovered nicely of late, and is sitting atop a 52-week high. It rose 12 cents Wednesday to $9.15.

Shapiro says the company is trying to focus on the overall experience for park-goers. At an average cost of $22 million each, Shapiro says, money-gobbling roller coasters take a huge bite out of capital spending and leave him with "nothing left to fix the parks."

So what's the game plan? More Tweety, for one. Shapiro says Six Flags hopes to "recharge" its relationship with Warner Bros. through the Looney Tunes and DC Comics franchises.

Bye-Bye, Burke
Six Flags bounces

Shapiro Wednesday announced the creation of the company's new entertainment and marketing division. He tapped former ESPN colleague Mike Antinoro, who led the

Disney

(DIS) - Get Report

division's original programming unit, to run that part of the business.

"At Six Flags, our mission is to surround the best rides in the world with entertainment from the fields of music, theater, sports, film and television," said Shapiro in making the announcement. "We want to be about more than rides -- Six Flags must be about a wider, more fulfilling experience."

Asked about the prospects of moving into TV and films, toward becoming a full-entertainment or diversified media company, Shapiro says, "That will come much more down the line. First I need to get the blocking and tackling right."

Yet while Shapiro insists that Hollywood glory is in the distant future some feel that signs point to such ambitions. When Snyder & Co. emerged victorious in December, they added one Harvey Weinstein to the board.

Prudential analyst Kathy Styponias wrote last month that adding Weinstein to the board signals the Hollywood aspirations of the Snyder-Shapiro team.

"In early discussions of Mr. Snyder's intentions, some indications were that he hoped to create a more diverse entertainment company, beyond regional theme parks," wrote Styponias, who goes on to note that Shapiro's talents were in cable programming and content development for ESPN, and not in theme parks. "Adding Harvey Weinstein to the board, one of the most influential people in Hollywood, is one way in which Mr. Snyder can at least ensure that he will 'get a meeting' with key Hollywood insiders and immediately be plugged into the entertainment industry."