More people in the industry question Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav’s decisions as he accumulates more losses. Kim Masters and founding partner of Puck News Matt Belloni examine Zaslav’s troubled tenure.
Zaslav is an outsider
Kim: David Zaslav did a prolonged goodwill tour before taking over at the helm of what is now Warner Bros. Discovery. He had run Discovery before. He really would be considered an outsider normally in Hollywood, just running a cable channel with unscripted stuff in it, that is not considered highbrow or not even necessarily middlebrow.
People were really wanting him to come in and salvage Warner Bros., which is the storied legacy studio and had been through this terrible time with AT&T. But the challenges are many, and he is an outsider, and it's starting to show.
More cost cuts ahead
Matt: It's starting to show at the studio, and when you talk to people around Hollywood: the bloom is sort of off that rose. I think people really have a bad taste in their mouth about some of these early moves. And it's not just the layoffs, although the layoffs that are going on company wide are a big deal. But I think people recognize this guy, who has $50 million dollars of debt at this company, he's promised to save $3 billion in cost cuts. So there are going to be cost cuts and layoffs.
Zaslav greenlights Robert De Nero movie
Matt: But there have been some bizarre moves at the studio. This past week, they greenlit this weird Robert De Niro movie where he plays two characters, and this was a Zaslav greenlight, not a traditional head of the studio greenlight.
They had a fallout over the “Batgirl” movie where he trashed that movie and said that they're not going to release it. They'd rather get a tax write-off then release a DC movie as planned.
Financially speaking, that may make sense, but to the creative community, that is hugely controversial. Person after person I talked to said they can't remember a time where a studio head did something like this, just said, “You know what, we're going to cut bait and get a tax rebate rather than release the movie.”
Release a bad movie “just because it exists?”
Kim: There are arguments to be made for why the movie is not great and a lot of people are commenting who haven't seen it. I feel like it's a little funny: “You haven't seen the movie. Do you really want them to release a ‘Batgirl’ movie that's bad, just because it exists?”
Kim: On the other hand, it was fronted by a Latina actress for the first time. And it's a bad look when you're greenlighting a movie with Barry Levinson, who's 80. Robert De Niro, who's 78, and both old white men, and then you're taking the young Latina out of the game.
I don't know how you could get rid of that movie without just offending people. And a lot of people are making surmise that somehow it was good. I just want to be clear, I don't necessarily think that's true. I think it's a no-win.
Zaslav “got a lot of no-wins”
Kim: He got a lot of no-wins. He has no-win at DC when he's claiming that he has this plan, but he doesn't have a Kevin Feige, who is running Marvel to execute whatever the plan is or isn't, and it's unclear. DC is a really valuable thing, and they've never been able to get that right. And with all the drama around it, I don't even know who would want to come in and try to run that thing.
Matt: The current head of DC, Walter Hamada, actually threatened to quit over the “Batgirl” situation. He was essentially talked into staying through at least the release of this next DC movie “Black Adam.” That's not great for Zaslav. You've got this guy who tried to leave the job and was convinced to stay. This is such an important piece of the Warner strategy, getting DC right.
Zaslav announced, unprompted on the earnings call this past couple of weeks, that they're going to have a 10-year plan for DC. That was news to a lot of people at DC because they already have a plan that they've been executing on, and this means they're going to have another new plan.
That's a very difficult thing in the movie business. These movies don't just appear. It is a years-long strategy. Takes years to get these movies into a flight pattern where they're coming once every six, eight months. And to change course, is a big deal.
Kim: Zasloff is clearly less than happy with what has been. He's got a big problem on his hands with “The Flash,” with Ezra Miller, who's been in all kinds of problems. They've got a year to get that straightened out. That's a big PR headache.
I don't know who even wants to run DC, so we'll see what happens.