In early August – two days after David Zaslav ended his short honeymoon with Hollywood by casting HBO Max bat girl – The Discover Warner Bros. The CEO was still confident in the future of one of the studio’s most important characteristics.
“You look at Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman – these are brands that are known everywhere in the world,” Zaslav told investors. “We have reset. We have restructured the business where we will focus, as there will be a team with a 10-year plan focused solely on the capital.”
But the AC reset announcement was premature. Zaslav continues to interview potential candidates to lead the effort, but surprisingly he has not found a clone of Kevin Feige. Negotiating with producer Dan Lane became public (perhaps due to a meeting held outdoors in plain sight due to WBD consultant Alan Horne’s COVID-19 concerns) but then appears to have broken down due to complications involving Lane Productions/non-profit company Rideback.
Meanwhile, DC Films president Walter Hamada called his lawyer after watching him bat girl Hear Zaslav talk about the bright future under superior but unnamed leadership. Michael De Luca, co-chair of the film studio, talked about staying up black Adam He was released in October, but his release is under negotiation.
At this point, it is difficult to think of any strong candidate for DC silo operation. There are several reasons why anyone with a decent job would want the job. So far, Zaslav has taken enough steps to reveal that – despite his extensive goodwill tour – he is exactly the tough boss described by previous Discovery insiders when WarnerMedia Discovery Group debuted. With CFO Gunnar Wiedenfels working to cut a staggering $50 billion in debt, the company has creators openly questioning what happened to material that disappeared from the streaming device without a word of warning, while insiders send out resumes as layoffs.
“Zaslav does not know what he does not know,” said one of the prominent representatives of talent. “That’s scary. And you’ll always be compared to Marvel. That’s unfair. By the time they were judged, it was working. It’s just the opposite in Warner. It’s tough all over. Who would want this job?”
Marvel comparison looms large. While Feige had the advantage of being what one industry source calls both the architect and contractor of the Marvel universe, the DC property has gone through multiple iterations. Her fans are passionate – sometimes to the point of toxicity – and hardly united. “The capital is very fragmented,” says one talent representative. “JJ [Abrams] He had this, Zack Snyder had that, Todd Phillips had the other. All of them have huge arrogance.”
All of these problems pale into alongside the larger question that hovers over any senior job at WBD: How long will this party last? The company is struggling with a heavy debt burden and skeptical investors. A former Zaslav executive recently received a letter from a due diligence firm on behalf of an unspecified client, requesting his assessment of Zaslav’s leadership style, strategic plans, and likelihood of success. That could point to different possibilities – a potential acquirer wandering around, a maverick shareholder sniffing at weakness, or a hedge fund trying to place a bet. Lots of uncertainty.
Given the company’s formidable challenges, it has become accepted wisdom at the highest levels of the industry that another deal awaits Warner Bros. Discovery. For reasons of the complex structure of this merger, negotiations cannot take place until April 2024. But at this point, many industry watchers believe Comcast’s Brian Roberts will take a long-overdue step, as he looks to combine NBCUniversal and Warner Bros. Discovery.
This deal would face some interesting antitrust issues but would give his company a viable scope and streaming service. “Obviously the peacock is bad,” says one executive familiar with both companies. “There are some good synergies. I’m sure [Roberts] He licked a piece because [WBD] Stock is very low. I think this is the end of the Zaslav game. Get the place sold out.” (Roberts and NBCU CEO Jeff Shell Meet Zaslav and Board Member John Malone During an Allen & Co meeting in Sun Valley last July, but due to rules that forbid planning for any group, this was undoubtedly just a friendly get-together.) A WBD spokesperson replied, “We’re building a Warner Bros. discovery for a long term.”
Many senior industry executives are so convinced that the deal will happen that some are even mourning in advance an event that may never happen. “People definitely feel like it’s Comcast,” says the president of one company. “It would be very disappointing to lose another major studio [after Disney bought Fox]. And Warner was Tiffany’s studio.”
Of course the obituary is premature. Maybe Warners will make a deal with Comcast, maybe not. Meanwhile, Zaslav continues his quest to find a DC superhero, but it seems possible that it will eventually be De Luca and Pam Abdy. – Now the department heads by proxy – they’ll end up running the thing by default. De Luca was a comic book collector as a kid, and years ago he made the New Line code And even he had Iron Man The movie is under development. (One source says New Line’s boss at the time, Bob Shay, let the option fall, arguing that it didn’t make sense because Iron Man was too heavy to fly.) The world of the book is long before it becomes the only thing anyone cares to see,” says an old colleague.
Given the importance of DC, it seems that the major filmmakers working in that world – Matt Reeves, Phillips and Andy Muschietti – will be protected from the sharp Wiedenfels knife. An agent with business in the studio says that De Luca and Abdy are talent friends, critical, and have improved dramatically since the studio operated under AT&T and Jason Keeler. “From where I sit,” he says, “the damn night and day were before.”
This story first appeared in the September 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter. Click here to subscribe.