Politics and Hollywood have always had a symbiotic relationship. Studios and their leaders have often provided opportunities for fund-raisers during crucial campaigns, and depending upon particular circumstances both parties could take full advantage of it. The one significant political event I was able to afford to attend was a fund-raiser for Al Gore at the home of Ron Burkle during the 2000 campaign, when I , along with other FX executives, was urged by Peter Chernin to find the money to attend. Yes, Chernin openly endorsed Democrats at the same time his boss was supporting Republicans, but, heck, it’s a free country.
Actors have long been able to use their celebrity as a path to winning elections, long before a certain obese orange Floridian was somehow able to become leader of the free world living off his track record as a reality show host. The blue state of California elected actors who respectively co-starred with a chimpanzee and Danny DeVito as their governors. The Democratic state of Minnesota elected a wrestler as their governor and the shorter half of a mediocre Saturday Night Live sketch team as their senator–and he somehow lost that gig in a scandal whose circumstances were usually ascribed to Republicans.
But, lately, politicans are turning the tables on studios. And the results are not pretty. Witness the ever-escalating holy war between Florida governor Ron DeSantis and Disney. DeSantis, who has largely camapigned on identitu politics and indeed dedicated a chapter of his recent biography to the “rationale” for his strategy, believed he had declared a premature victory over Disney. As CNN’s Steve Contorto explains, however, he merely took advantage of a struggling, embattled and ill-advised now-ex CEO and was then masterfully outmaneuvered:
The unlikely fracturing of Florida’s relationship with its most iconic business started during the contentious debate last year over state legislation to restrict certain classroom instruction on sexuality and gender identity. Disney’s then-CEO, Bob Chapek, facing pressure from his employees, reluctantly objected to the bill, leading DeSantis to criticize the company. When DeSantis signed the legislation into law, Disney announced it would push for its repeal. DeSantis then targeted Disney’s special governing.
But as Bob Iger regained control of the company, and led Disney’s team through a series of options, as Contorto continues, it was clear that DeSantis, whose background doesn’t include running too many billion-dollar private companies, was in over his head:
DeSantis’ office told CNN in a statement that it was first alerted to Disney’s efforts to thwart the state takeover of its special taxing district on March 18 by the district’s lawyers. Yet, the governor remained quiet until March 29, when his new appointees to Disney’s oversight board first made the public aware of the arrangement, drawing national attention and an outpouring of snickering from his detractors.
“You spend all that energy and attention on Disney, and then no one minds the store?” said Aaron Goldberg, an author and Disney historian. “Disney was playing chess, and DeSantis was playing checkers.”
The most hilarious outcome of all of this was documented in the unfolding of the strategy and specific clauses Disney used to resolve the Reedy Creek situation, Again, per Contorto:
The timing of the next move remained secret until January 6, when DeSantis’ office posted on the Osceola County government website its intent to seek legislation to overhaul Reedy Creek. In Florida, changes to a special district must be published for the public to see at least 30 days in advance. Disney was on the clock.
The company then prepared a draft developer’s agreement for Reedy Creek board members to approve that would guarantee Disney’s development rights for the next 30 years, a source with knowledge of the arrangement said. Twelve days after the state’s notice was published online, Reedy Creek published its own notice in the Orlando Sentinel for a meeting to consider the Disney draft. The board intended to vote, the notice said, on an agreement that would affect “a majority of the land located within the jurisdictional boundaries of Reedy Creek Improvement District.”
The Reedy Creek board held two public hearings on the development agreement, as required by Florida law, on January 25 and February 8.
DeSantis appeared in Central Florida just as the board gave final approval to the agreement on February 8. At the same time, state lawmakers were meeting in Tallahassee in a special session to pass DeSantis’ takeover of Reedy Creek, which included a provision that gave him the power to pick all five of the district’s board members. Neither DeSantis nor the Republican lawmakers advancing the legislation made statements indicating awareness of the votes taking place inside the district.
Instead, DeSantis, speaking an hour after the Reedy Creek board handed Disney the requested powers, declared that the company was “no longer going to have self-government” and teased that the new board might push for more Disney World discounts for Florida residents.
On February 27, DeSantis signed the bill giving him the power to pick all five members on the Reedy Creek board and named his appointees, including an influential donor, the wife of the state’s GOP leader and a former pastor who has pushed unfounded conspiracies about gay people.
However, a month later, the new board revealed it was effectively powerless.
“This essentially makes Disney the government,” new board member Ron Peri said during the March 29 meeting.
In addition to giving away oversight of Disney development, the outgoing board also agreed not to use any of Disney’s “fanciful characters” like Mickey Mouse – until “21 years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III, king of England,” according to a copy of the deal included in the February 8 meeting packet.
The reference to the British monarch is a contracting tactic known as the “royal lives clause,” intended to avoid rules against perpetual agreements. While relatively common legalese, its inclusion raised eyebrows. In the halls of the Florida Capitol, people have murmured “God save the king” to each other in passing, the GOP source said.
Round Two, Mickey. With a little help from the Royal Family.
So this week, at a speech at the uber-conservative Hillsdale College which DeSantis has coveted as a curriculum model to replace schools he believes are “too left” in their curriculum, such as Sarasota’s New College, his reaction was still more saber-rattling, much like–ironically–a vanquished comic book villain . And it sure appears Meatball Ron is Jonesing for Round Three, Per Reuters:
On Thursday in remarks made at Hillsdale College in Michigan, DeSantis said the legislature would void changes Disney made shortly before it lost control of the board.
“They are not superior to the people of Florida. And so come hell or high water, we’re going to make sure that policy of Florida carries the day,” the Florida governor said.
“We’re going to look at things like taxes on hotels, we’re going to look at things like tolls on the roads, we’re going to look at things like developing some of the property that the district owns,” added DeSantis, widely considered a 2024 presidential candidate.
Before anyone in DeSantis’ camp starts to clap, bear in mind that he is willing to make it more difficult for HIS citizens to attend a venue that employs thousands of HIS residents.
Yep, chess vs. checkers.
But at a time when Democrats should be taking a victory lap, it seems that a few of them have felt compelled to take on their own quixotic studio foe. As Winston Cho of The Hollywood Reporter reported yesterday, it seems that the business acumen of David Zaslav is now worthy of investigation:
Nearing the one year anniversary of Discovery and AT&T’s WarnerMedia merger, four Democrats in Congress are calling for the Department or Justice to reassess the deal.
In a letter to the Justice Department’s top enforcers, the lawmakers say that the merger has enabled Warner Bros. Discovery to “adopt potentially anticompetitive practices” that prompted numerous layoffs and reduced programming options for consumers. They allege that “current competition in the media and entertainment industry is inadequate.”
“The damage to content creators whose projects are cancelled in deep development and post-production cannot be overstated,’ reads the April 7 letter from Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., and Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash. “Such cancellations stain these projects, making them less appealing and marketable to other buyers — consumers will likely never be able to watch shows purchased then cancelled by WBD. WBD’s conduct amounts to a de facto ‘catch and kill’ practice, vastly limiting consumer choice.”
The lawmakers call out “product cancellations that would limit consumer and worker choice,” including the cancellation of Batgirl, which was deep into postproduction, Gordita Chronicles, Demimonde, and The Time Traveler’s Wife. The group also cites WBD abruptly nixing development of Moisés Zamora’s Whistleblower after a “competitive bidding process with multiple outlets.”
NOW we have a case of true ignorance. And since this is MY turf, I feel compelled to speak up strongly to point out the myriad misstatements this baseless request has conflated.
Per numerous reports from people actually involved in the testing of BATGIRL with audiences reflecting the ACTUAL potential viewers, the film was deemed :”unreleasable” by executives with far more experience in audience testing than I believe the likes of Warren or Jayapal have seen. All indications from folks I personally know who were involved in the analysis of the actual response to THE GORDITA CHRONICLES was tepid. And as far as THE TIME TRAVELERS’ WIFE goes, fortunately, as it aired for six weeks last spring on linear HBO, actual Nielsen audiences are available, per Wikipedia:
|1||“Episode One”||David Nutter||Steven Moffat||May 15, 2022||0.294|
|2||“Episode Two”||David Nutter||Steven Moffat||May 22, 2022||0.224|
|3||“Episode Three”||David Nutter||Steven Moffat||May 29, 2022||0.159|
|4||“Episode Four”||David Nutter||Steven Moffat||June 5, 2022||0.245|
|5||“Episode Five”||David Nutter||Steven Moffat||June 12, 2022||0.213|
|6||“Episode Six”||David Nutter||Steven Moffat||June 19, 2022||0.203]
A peak audience that equates to a 0.01 rating. A decline of more than -30% off that marginal base from finale vs. premiere. And way, way below the performances of other HBO series.
Consumer choice? I’d say those figures alone proves they made their choice, and more than 99% of those that chose to watch anything at all opted for anything else. Those numbers look about as strong as those that Warren posted in many of the states she chose to run in during the 2020 Presidential campaign.
David Zaslav is making thse choices because he is being tasked by Wall Street to try and right the wrongs of his precedessors, much like Iger is tasked with at Disney. He is making hard choices, and yes, thousands of people have already lost their jobs as a result. But to fall on a sword so devoid of any factually supported rationale and make THIS these Democrats’ way of spending time and resources? Demand investing precious resources into failed concepts be a priority? Sure sounds like a Republican playbook.
Incidentally, you genuises, Zaslav personally contributed more than a quarter of a milion dollars to Democrats during 2020, per Campaign Money.com. Including $100,000 to the Nancy Pelosi Victory Fund.
Zaslav made those contributions BEFORE HBO ordered a documentary extolling her career, the 14th such documentary produced by, per the HBO Max website, acclaimed documentarian Alexandra Pelosi.
Hmmm…should the platform perhaps NOT have spent money on that and renewed TIME TRAVELERS’ WIFE instead?
But just as Republicans and DeSantis are foolheartedy and misinformedly grasping at political straws to fight windmills, the Democrats are doing the EXACT SAME THING.
The greatest irony is that Warren was ridiculed mercilessly during her failed Presidential campaign as “Pocohontas” by that orange tub of lard, enough to eventually produce her TIME TRAVELERS’ WIFE-like results. We know which studio owns that IP.
You want to target a studio, Senator Warren? Why not go after one that helped hurt YOU, rather than one you’ve been coerced into believing has hurt a bunch of whining, entitled, and, yes, overly WOKE creatives who think they can tap into your progressive instincts to reverse decisions based on legitimate business considerations?
Instead, you picked a fight with Yosemite Zas. I know who I’m laying odds on.
Right now, I honestly don’t know which party I will support next year. And I’m well aware almost no one will care by that point. But actions like this from both parties make my desire to even cast my one little vote far less desirable than they otherwsie would be.
Do better. Everybody. DO BETTER.
Until next time…