Turmoil at HBO Max has sent shockwaves throughout the industry this week, and Hollywood creatives are going public with their anger about how Warner Bros. Discovery is handling content.
Uncertainty and dismay loomed when news broke that WBD was killing the nearly completed DC film “Batgirl,” which was to have debuted on HBO Max. The parent company also quietly removed a number of HBO Max original films from the streaming service, and TheWrap reported Wednesday that Chief Executive Officer David Zaslav is expected to announce a major restructuring of HBO Max and Discovery+ that will result in a gutting of HBO Max, significant layoffs for its executives and staff to minimize redundancies with HBO and a combined streaming service with Discovery+ with a harder line separation between the scripted and unscripted content operations.
“Streamers have been selling us creatives on the virtues of platform exclusivity for some time now,” said “Doctor Strange” and “The Black Phone” co-writer C. Robert Cargill on Twitter. “The reason Hollywood is so shook by the HBO Max stories is that no one is sure whether this is an isolated incident or a canary in the coal mine. This isn’t just about a few movies.”
“Roswell, New Mexico” and “The Originals” writer and producer Carina Adly MacKenzie added, “We’re out here worrying about the HBO Max shows we already love but soooo many people are about to get their years of hard development work thrown out and we’ll never even know. 70% of scripted development is… so so so many people’s LIFE’S WORK.”
In a follow-up tweet, MacKenzie called out the “bizarre” decisions at HBO Max. “Between The CW bloodbath, this BIZARRE decision at HBO Max (THEIR CONTENT WAS LEGIT GOOD) and Batgirl getting tossed in the bin…idk, can anyone confirm WB isn’t being run by three kids in a trenchcoat? So sad for all these creators who trusted their studio.”
Addressing the HBO Max original films that were quietly pulled from the streaming service, creator of the Apple TV+ series “Dickinson” Alena Smith shared that she requested a physical copy of her series. “The Batgirl/ HBO Max situation is why I spent my last day on set of Dickinson calling an exec at apple and *begging* for a physical recording of my show…they actually gave me one, I have the ONLY copy…. People said I was crazy but dude, that’s ten years of my life.”
Adam Conover, creator and host of the HBO Max series “Adam Ruins Everything,” took on David Zaslav’s apparent “dismantling” of the streaming service after the Warner Bros. Discovery merger. “HBO Max is widely acknowledged to be the best streaming service. And now the execs who bought it are on the verge of dismantling it, simply because they feel like it. Mergers give just a few wealthy people MASSIVE control over what we watch, with disastrous results.”
The reaction to Zaslav’s HBO Max decisions from the creative community could end up mirroring the initial reaction to former WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar’s decision to release all of Warner Bros.’ 2021 films in theaters and on HBO Max day-and-date. That announcement angered filmmakers like Christopher Nolan and Denis Villeneuve who value an exclusive theatrical window, and while WarnerMedia subsequently doled out make-good payments to talent to make up for any perceived box office losses by the streaming debuts, the damage for some was done – Nolan left his longtime home of Warner Bros. to make his next film at Universal.
To put the potential fallout of Zaslav’s actions more pointedly, “Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” and “Better Call Saul” writer Gennifer Hutchinson said, “We sure this new guy doesn’t just have a secret vendetta against HBO Max and this is all part of an elaborate plan to have his vengeance?”
We should learn more during Warner Bros. Discovery’s earnings later on Thursday, when Zaslav is expected to lay out his plans for HBO Max and beyond.