Warner Bros. Pictures heads Michael De Luca and Pamela Abdy are taking oversight of Turner Classic Movies, an individual with knowledge of the matter confirmed Friday to TheWrap.
The leadership change follows the exit of TCM chief Pola Changnon and layoffs of several other members of the network’s top brass. The departures came amid cuts of 100 staffers across Warner Bros. Discovery’s U.S. Networks Group this week, led by chairman and chief content officer Kathleen Finch.
Following Changnon’s departure on Tuesday, Finch said in a memo to staff that Michael Ouweleen, the president of Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, Discovery Family and Boomerang who had previously run TCM on an interim basis for eight months in 2019 and 2020, would take oversight of the network.
Just hours later, TheWrap exclusively reported that TCM’s senior vice president of programming and content strategy Charles Tabesh, vice president of studio production Anne Wilson, vice president of marketing and creative Dexter Fedor and TCM Enterprises vice president Genevieve McGillicuddy were leaving the company as well.
The news of the executive exits sent shockwaves among fans of the TCM brand, both in the industry and the general public.
On Wednesday, Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav called a meeting with directors Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson to discuss the future of the movie channel.
“Turner Classic Movies has always been more than just a channel. It is truly a precious resource of cinema, open 24 hours a day seven days a week. And while it has never been a financial juggernaut, it has always been a profitable endeavor since its inception,” the trio said in a joint statement. “We understand the pressures and realities of a corporation as large as WBD, of which TCM is one moving part. We have each spent time talking to David, separately and together, and it’s clear that TCM and classic cinema are very important to him.”
The filmmakers emphasized that their primary goal is to ensure that TCM’s programming is “untouched and protected.”
“We are heartened and encouraged by the conversations we’ve had thus far, and we are committed to working together to ensure the continuation of this cultural touchstone that we all treasure,” they added.
But four current and former TCM employees told TheWrap that morale is low at the network.
“No one left is thrilled,” one TCM insider said.
Staffers within TCM’s public relations department were among the casualties in a round of layoffs Thursday, including TCM’s editorial manager.
“I think the layoffs were their pretext for wanting to restructure things because they don’t believe in the approach that we take to programming,” a now-former TCM employee told TheWrap. “They’re used to making a cheap show, playing it 1,000 times and monetizing it with commercials. They have a formula for how to create shows that doesn’t apply to TCM and they’ve never really thought through what the implications of those differences are.”
The insider said that the restructuring came after months of progressively trimming the TCM budget. Two individuals at TCM told TheWrap that Warner Bros. Discovery tried to cut the famous outros on the network — in which hosts would further discuss the historical significance of the film viewers just watched — as a cost-saving measure, assuming viewers wouldn’t feel the loss of the programming (this was also reported by Vulture’s Joe Adalian). The hosts intervened and the outros remained. The budget for the TCM Film Festival, where Zaslav introduced “Rio Bravo” and stood alongside Steven Spielberg and Paul Thomas Anderson in April, was also reduced this year.
Ben Mankiewicz, Jacqueline Stewart and the other TCM hosts will continue in their host roles, according to a WBD spokesperson. TCM will continue to pay for access to classic films from all studios and there is no plan to restrict the channel to showing only Warner Bros. movies.
A Warner Bros. executive familiar with decision-making noted that some remaining TCM employees will be dedicated solely to the network while others will split their time between TCM and other WBD channels. Moving forward, the executive emphasized that there’s “no desire” to do “anything disruptive to the TCM experience.” As for the film festival’s future, they added no decision has been made about changing its current format or budget.
“There’s no change to the mission,” the individual said. “We are looking to show classic movies and preserve the importance of those stories. The hosts will continue, the variety and vastness of the types of movies TCM airs will continue. So there will be no change that will in any way diminish the mission or the things people love about TCM.”
TCM is a tiny part of the multibillion-dollar Warner Bros. Discovery conglomerate, generating approximately $266 million in net operating revenue in 2022, according to S&P Global Intelligence.
The firm forecasts that TCM’s revenue will drop slightly to $252.7 million in 2023. The vast majority of that comes from affiliate revenue, or fees paid by cable providers to carry the network. That source of revenue is steadily declining as customers continue to drop their cable subscriptions in favor of cheaper streaming options.
Shares of Warner Bros. Discovery, which are up approximately 23% year to date as of Friday’s close, have fallen nearly 10% in the past five days.