What will happen to unscripted HBO Max reality TV shows?
What will happen to HBO Max’s unscripted department? It’s a question the TV industry asked before Discovery and WarnerMedia tied the knot in April to become Warner Bros. Discovery. But having recently passed the 100-day post-merger mark and approaching the company’s second quarter results next Thursday, the question is increasingly being raised by those outside and within the company. company run by David Zaslav — which has more cooks in its unscripted programming kitchen than it needs — especially if it’s still determined to achieve its promised $3 billion savings synergies over the next few years. next three years and reduce its leverage by approximately $55 billion out of a market capitalization of $36.3 billion.
“David Zaslav is both a very smart, intelligent man and, some would say, I’m not saying this, some would say, also a ruthless businessman,” Peter Newman, principal of NYU Tisch School of the Arts and the Stern The School of Business MBA-MFA dual degree, said Variety. “And he must pull several rabbits out of the hat. And he already has. Who would have thought you were going to bring together these disparate channels, Food Network, Discovery Channels and Eurosport, and make it into something that WarnerMedia controls. There is no doubt that he will succeed in making these $3 billion cuts. The obvious thing is to look at the layoffs.
OG Discovery has long been the home of comforting lifestyle programming, taking that a step further with its acquisition of Scripps in 2018. Led by Kathleen Finch, the portfolio includes Food Network, HGTV, TLC, Animal Planet, Discovery Channel and Cooking Channel, as well as young streamer Discovery+ and Magnolia Network – Discovery’s streaming/linear joint venture with “Fixer Upper” stars Chip and Joanna Gaines. (Shortly after the merger closed, Magnolia Network programming was transferred under the responsibility of HBO and HBO Max Chief Content Officer Casey Bloys, signaling a specific level of prestige assigned to the brand by Zaslav.)
Meanwhile, several of Discovery’s newly acquired WarnerMedia properties, most recently owned by AT&T, are also home to content-producing unscripted divisions, including CNN, HBO, HBO Max, and the so-called “T-Nets”: TNT, TBS and TruTV.
Add it all up and you have a lot of people working on unscripted content who have joined a company that deals specifically with unscripted content and is already staffed to continue doing so. You also have a company that has promised that it will eventually combine its two streamers, HBO Max and Discovery+, into one platform, although no timetable has yet been given for doing so.
“We all know the end game is ‘one company, one product’. But it takes time,” said an insider at a former Discovery brand. Variety. “Unscripted is going through a very tough time right now – ratings are down and budgets have been demolished. I think the future of the improv and what kind of role WBD wants to play in that world long term is probably one of the biggest question marks at this point and maybe part of the reason for the lack of clarity in terms of strategy. Another big question mark is how gutted will these unscripted teams be? It seems like everyone is always waiting for that other shoe to drop before they even think about “strategy”.
Zaslav and company. have already made some big decisions in this space, immediately scrapping CNN+ and deciding to pivot TNT, TBS and TruTV to become strictly unscripted channels. But the ax hasn’t fallen yet on the place most closely scrutinized for redundancies and inefficiencies in the unscripted realm: HBO Max.
Currently, HBO Max has a growing lineup of reality, competitive, and lifestyle fare that includes “Selena + Chef,” “FBoy Island,” “Legendary,” “The Great Pottery Throw Down,” “ Sweet Life: Los Angeles” and Dan Levy’s upcoming “The Big Brunch,” among others.
“I think all the HBO Max people are going to leave and it’s going to be all the Discovery people, and they’re just going to rename it something else. I don’t know what else they’re going to do,” said an agent who specializes in unscripted content. “David Zaslav obviously has a team in place that he fully trusts, that’s crystal clear. And I think HBO Max has done well, partly because of the pandemic, but for them to name HBO Max – which is basically the Warner Bros. catalog – HBO Max felt like it was hanging on to the ponytails of HBO, which stood out and made a name for itself a long time ago, so my only question is whether HBO will live in this new structure, or outside of it?
A WBD insider tells Variety that decisions will finally be made soon and that a reorganization plan will be announced during next week’s second quarter earnings call by Zaslav and his streaming chief JB Perrette on the future of HBO Max and unscripted at all levels at Warner Bros. Discovery. But until then, those on the WB and D sides are waiting for answers while trying to do their usual jobs in a sea of uncertainty.
Sources inside HBO and HBO Max say they are still in the dark about the plans and continue to operate with uncertainty about how long they will be in business. But as of this writing, the company’s policy is that the unscripted departments of HBO and HBO Max are alive and well, even if they’re clearly not doing well.
“It’s kind of business as usual,” a Warner Bros. employee said. Discovery working within a lifestyle brand Discovery. “There have been layoffs and there are fewer people doing more work. But I know most of the upheaval has been on Warner’s side. They just have more people, we are lighter. I think we are generally smaller. I think everyone is waiting.”
“In this bloodbath that is the streaming wars, the Warner group of companies are apparently very well suited to reality programming,” Newman said. “If you take legacy and studios and movies and TV and whatever else Warners and HBO have and then add this component which is mostly reality and home and garden and add Eurosports, it seems to be a good mix and there’s some redundancy. And some heads will roll – some justified, some unjustified. I guess the question is how does he achieve those goals by combining redundancy reduction, but also by simply cutting entire networks, shows, and employees without sacrificing the true value of the whole operation in any way.
(Pictured: HBO Max’s “Selena + Chef”)