A few people who are regular readers have observed that sometimes, my otherwise accurate observations about people at the top of the media food chain are sometimes a bit too negative. Because, particularly in the situation I find myself in, it’s, in their opinion, counterproductive to be pointing out something they’re doing that might be construed by someone, anyone, anywhere–not even at their company–as being something other than reverent.
In particular, it’s be noted that I’ve been perhaps a bit too harsh on Warner Brothers Discovery’s CEO David Zaslav. Never mind that he’s eliminated hundreds of jobs, including those of numerous, successful people I actually have met and would still consider friends, and recently attempted to eliminate a diversity writers’ program that championed creatives, including several folks who I’ve only had occasional contact with but left an indelible impression on me. Let alone burying produced movies and series and taking writedowns on them, infuriating both the performers and the unions they contribute to in the process, and not even entertaining the possibility of at least exhibiting these works somewhere.
But if these people had indeed read my observations closely, and looked beyond the imagery of Yosemite Zas which I’ve used in the past, they might have picked up my understanding of exactly how difficult a task he has in attempting to right a ship that, frankly, the captains of AT&T all but drove into an iceberg under their brief stewardship. In particular, former chairperson Jason Kilar, tech genius extarordinaire, attempted to pivot the theatrical business that established the century-old company and the Warner Brothers shield away from in-person and support the growth of an HBO Max streamer that he championed. By offering first windows or simultaneous exhibition of releases such as Wonder Woman 1984, and offering a year’s worth of access for free for existing DirecTV and/or AT&T Wireless customers, he artificially goosed the early numbers of Max’s rollout, and allowed overstaffing and needless competitive bidding with HBO for projects seeking a home.
Once the halo of early adoption withered and Zaslav’s mandate to trim $3B in excess costs became evident, the news surrounding Warner Brothers was consistently dour. The shelving of a diverse, inclusive theatrical version of BATGIRL and the attempt to do away with the Writers’ and Directors’ Workshops drew ire and cries of subtle racism from those impacted. I have to admit, I understood their concerns and pain. But I also knew that, even as I’d snark, Zaslav’s track record suggested there was more yet to be unveiled, and he saw no reason to kowtow to pressure to undo his decisions. And this week, he’s finally seeing some positive results.
BLACK ADAM, a first installment of an otherwise deeply embedded DC Universe superhero, delivered a solid $62M opening weekend box office, blowing away its competition and ending the brief reign of Universal’s HALLOWEEN ENDS as queen of the box office/streaming hybrid strategy. And to quell the angst of those who believed tbe shelving of BATGIRL, let alone the imminent departure of DC Films’ longtime head Walter Hamada, was a sign that Zaslav was giving up the ghost of chasing the Disney and Marvel universes, the Easter egg at the end of BLACK ADAM that points to a potential sequel connecting Dwayne Johnson’s African-American hero with the new iteration of SUPERMAN literally drew gasps from theater-goers, and a strong indication that, indeed, WBD is committed to this battle. Just not with the cast of characters Zaslav inherited.
Earlier in the week, it was also revealed that the workshops were not being eliminated, which happened to coincide with a blistering rebuke from the Director’s Guild that followed up the earlier report. The programs will indeed continue, under the auspices of WBD DEI. And, candidly, diverse voices may have an opportunity for consideration, given that BLACK ADAM’s appeal is clearly being driven by diverse audiences. The looming showdown with Superman is especially intriguing, given recent news that that imagery was being considered to be unveiled by President Trump in his infamous return to the White House after his near-fatal COVID bout in October 2020. For as much as Henry Cavill may not be an ideal choice to wear the “S” and the cape, it’s a helluva lot better than the alternative might have been.
Whether or not this has a material impact on the financial morass WBD is still in remains to be seen. There’s still many more people that will lose their jobs before year’s end. And many more risks ahead for WBD to anticipate, including the gnawing issue of what to do with CNN, whose initial attempts to fill their primetime void has been, to say the least, underwhelming, both in audience delivery and critical acclaim.
But critics also crucified BLACK ADAM, dimming hopes for even a decent box office. Several reports cited that the $62M early haul was actually below some pundits’ estimates. But the actual turnout, coupled with the revelation that this is indeed step one of a reinvigorated DCU, should help calm some of the worries that many of those critics’ business colleagues had telegraphed.
So please take a well-deserved victory lap, Mr. Zaslav. You’ve earned your actual picture and real name, and I’m sure you noticed my earlier snarks as much as my overconcerned friends did. And even if you didn’t, you’ve got my respect. You’ve proven to be as wily as the wascally wabbit that confounded your namesake for decades. Indeed, you’re one baaaaaad bunny.
Until next time…