Is Bad Publicity Better Than No Publicity At All?

There was once an era where the Sunday New York Times was far more important and ubiquitous than it is these days, and even on a normal Sunday it would be hundreds of pages and dozens of sections.  On the Sunday before Thanksgiving, with an overload of inserts from advertisers offering the beginnings of their Black Friday deals, and extensive previews in the Arts and Leisure section of the Hollywood blockbusters about to flood the theatres, that edition was the size and weight of a New York City telephone book.  Perhaps not quite as huge as the editions published in September which offered fall previews of everything from TV to fashion.   As late as 2015 the local New York City edition weighed in at over five pounds, and in 1987 an all-time Guinness Book record was set when it weighed in at a whopping 12 pounds.  But considering that it was that edition that often got taken along for holiday travel on countless flights, and provided the entertainment for many travelers waiting through delays and turbulence, to be a major story in that issue was often seen as an accomplishment that would ensure it became discussion points for reuniting families.

So I suppose that there is a belief among those in the inner circle of Warner Brothers Discovery topper David Zaslav that somehow thought that a cover story in the pre-Thanksgiving Sunday New York Times Magazine would qualify as a victory lap of some sorts.  Perhaps that conviction may be held by Zaslav himself.  He’s a native New Yorker, and in the story that it its audio version runs for nearly an hour that accompanies today’s issue we learn that he’s been spending more time in his hometown of late, especially now that the strike summer of 2023 has apparently come to an end.  We also learn that he is a student and afficiando of iconic Hollywood fixtures.  In the first paragraph, no less.  As the trio of Jonathan MahlerJames B. Stewart and 

The longtime New Yorker had always loved movies, and against the advice of several media peers, he had moved to Hollywood and taken over Jack Warner’s historic office, hauling the old mogul’s desk out of storage and topping it off with an old-time handset telephone…He had met all the stars and players…and was well into the process of renovating a landmark house in Beverly Hills.

At his first town hall for employees after the deal closed, held in a packed auditorium on the Warner Brothers lot, Zaslav assumed the mantle with considerable ceremony. He carried the leather portfolio once owned by Steve Ross, the longtime and legendary head of Warner Communications, onto the stage and told the audience that he intended to keep it on his desk — Jack Warner’s desk — as a tribute to the studio’s great legacy.

We learn how many of his former associates feel about him:

“You’re the dog that caught the bus,” the billionaire octogenarian cable pioneer John Malone, one of Discovery’s largest shareholders, told him.

 “He has an interest in Hollywood I never would have,” says Lloyd Blankfein, the former chairman of Goldman Sachs .

“D.Z. loves running this!” (Barry) Diller says. “Are you kidding? He’s the happiest clam in the universe.”

But we also rehash the litany of missteps and backfires that have defined his tenure to date.  His ruthless slashings of staffs across numerous legacy Warner Brothers divisions.  His thin-skinned reaction to a negative GQ article. His ill-received attempt to gut TCM which resulted in immediate backtracking.  And, of course, his role as one of the Gang of Four that led AMPTP negotiations against the WGA and SAG-AFTRA which we’ve chronicled extensively.

We even learn new and extended details about a few more missteps he’s made in his road to mogul-dom, including a bromance with Grayson Carter, the one-time editor of Vanity Fair that occupied a great deal of his time just as the WGA walkout was beginning.  And heeding the “advice” of Carter over that of his own staff on how to handle the optics, as the story details:

But when the writers walked out, the party took on a different cast, more redolent of the Ancien Régime than of golden-age Hollywood. Zaslav’s chief corporate-communications officer, Nathaniel Brown, strongly urged him to cancel, but Zaslav plowed ahead. “Canceling it,” Carter says, “would have been just as costly as putting it on.”

And we learn that amidst the cancellations and draconian measures on numerous movies and series sacrificed in the pursuit of the loophole of a one-time writedown, even while taking unwarranted credit for the breakout success of BARBIE (the article reminds that it was greenlit under WB’s previous regime, most notably Courtenay Valenti, now an Amazon executive who competes with WBD), he committed to this progressive and unique story from other visionary newcomers:

(O)ver opposition from some within his own studio, he had managed to find $45 million to commit to at least one film, a mob movie now called “Alto Knights” written by an old pal of his from New York, the 90-year-old Nicholas Pileggi, co-produced by one of his East Hampton friends, the 92-year-old Irwin Winkler, and starring the 80-year-old Robert De Niro.

He seems to love old Hollywood and people in his age bracket.  Even prior to his move to Jack Warner’s office, he regularly romanced studio elites at his East Hamptons estate every Labor Day weekend.  He calls his inner circle “The Schmoozers”, a monicker that I only know because of I’m of a certain age myself.  We all know how well Baby Boomer humor goes over with younger audiences, and even the graduating class at Boston University, where he earned his master’s degree, reminded him of that.

I’ve consistently referenced Zaslav only half-revently as Yosemite Zas, in deference to his gunslinging approach to budgets and the kind of attitude toward his fellow man (and animal) that his IP demonstrated in dozens of classic cartoons. An approach that still curries favor with those that actually matter to someone like Zaslav–his Wall Street buddies and shareholders.

But now it appears that perhaps the real Zaslav has more in common with this Hollywood icon:

Fortunately, the Sunday New York Times is a lot smaller these days, and a lot less omnipresent.  In fact, the digital version of this story dropped earlier this week.  Which gave the Hollywood press a chance to parse this story as thoroughly as they do a Presidential press conference, giving the likes of MOVIEWEB’s Mariah Starks the chance to drop this amplification into this weekend’s timelines:

In a profile published by The New York Times Magazine, Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav conceded that the demands of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) union were reasonable.  Zaslav stated that he commends the union’s demands and does not mind if his company “overpays” the workers for what they actually deserve.  “They are right about almost everything. So what if we overpay? I’ve never regretted overpaying for great talent or a great asset.”

You know, an awful lot of writers and actors are flying around the country this week, and they tend to scroll on their phones through content like this these days rather than lug around something like the Sunday Times.  Wonder how they’ll describe Zaslav to their relatives over the second helping of green bean casserole?

Perhaps Norma Desmond was ready for her close-up.  It sure appears from all we’ve learned about in yet another attempt on the part of a confoundingly tone-deaf communications team led by a frequently misstepping Nathaniel Brown, that Zaslav’s not.  Maybe if Cecil B. DeMille was still around, that might have been true.

Then again, maybe a fellow Schmoozer like this guy might give him a shot.

Good luck with that.

Until next time…


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