David Zaslav became CEO of Warner Bros. in May 2021 when it merged with Discovery, where he was already stationed. Since his takeover, Zaslav shelved the $90 million-already-filmed Batgirl for a tax write off, rebranded HBO Max to just Max, decimated the ranks at TCM to the point where Scorsese and Spielberg demanded to speak with him, and cost the studio a reported $200 million by going ahead with the release of Summer 2023’s big flop The Flash. He’s doing well. The New York Times ran a profile on Zaslav this week, and his comments did not go unnoticed by the Hollywood community. Which is how we got this piece from The Hollywood Reporter on the irony of Zaslav now saying, comfortably post-strike, that the WGA was right in all their contract requests. Of course as a studio head, Zaslav was represented in strike negotiations by AMPTP. Hey Mr. WBD CEO: GMAFB.
Warner Bros. Discovery boss David Zaslav now admits that striking writers were correct in their demands for sweeping changes in how creatives are compensated in Hollywood.
Zaslav told The New York Times in a lengthy new profile that he has no regrets about the deal struck between studios and the Writers Guild of America for a new three-year contract on Sept. 24.
“They are right about almost everything,” Zaslav said. “So what if we overpay? I’ve never regretted overpaying for great talent or a great asset.”
In the deal, writers received an increase in pay, minimum show staffing requirements and protections against artificial intelligence, among other gains. Yet studios resisted the writers’ demands for months, resulting in a strike that lasted a brutal 148 days and brought the industry to a near halt. In July, Disney chief Bob Iger called the writers’ proposed changes in compensation “unrealistic.”
Zaslav’s suggestion that writers might now be overpaid will likely strike some detractors as ironic given that the executive reportedly earned $246 million in compensation in 2021. WGA board member Adam Conover previously countered, “That’s about the same level as 10,000 writers are asking him to pay us collectively, all right?” For further context, if combining the Writers Guild, SAG-AFTRA and Directors Guild contracts, the total cost is “closer to the high end of our $450 million to $600 million yearly cost estimate,” Moody’s Investor Service detailed on Nov. 10.
The Times profile points out that the writers and actors strikes ultimately saved WBD plenty of money, but suggested the studio has been sluggish to greenlight new projects that could bolster the company’s bottom line amid his extremely aggressive, and controversial, cost cutting (the company disputes this, noting Warner Bros. has announced many titles for its new DC Universe, streaming projects and first-look deals). Even with executing $3 billion in cuts, the company lost $400 million in the third quarter. The board’s confidence in the executive, the story notes, remains firm.
The story follows the latest in Warners’ self-inflicted headaches: the announced shelving, then un-shelving, of another movie, Coyote vs. Acme — a live-action and animation hybrid that briefly seemed doomed to follow the same fate as last year’s Batgirl and Scoob! Holiday Haunt, which were dumped for tax write-offs. After creative community outcry, the company has since reversed course and plans to shop the film to studios and streamers, though one congressman, Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro, is now calling for the studio to be investigated for “predatory and anti-competitive” practices.
Wait, Coyote vs. Acme is back on? Carina was talking about its getting shelved only a few days ago! How quickly Zaslav crumbles amid criticism. To quote the epitome of Warner Bros. characters, the inimitable Bugs Bunny, “what a maroon!” The most asinine part, though, is Zaslav claiming he’s “never regretted overpaying for great talent.” For one thing, your record is public, sir. We see you slashing jobs at beloved networks and canning finished movies with built-in fanbases. But what really stings is the word “overpaying.” He may think he’s being subtle (he’s not). Or he thinks it will fly right over our heads (it won’t) that he’s still essentially saying writers/creatives/anyone-but-hims are getting paid too much. They’re not, Zaslav. You are. How long until the WBD Board starts to regret overpaying for their current CEO?
Photos credit: JPI Studios/Avalon, Jeffrey Mayer/Avalon and Getty