In total, 14% of the workforce – about 70 people – will be laid off on Monday, the vast majority of them on the Max side. That includes Max Non-Fiction Originals, International, Acquisitions, Casting, and previously reported Live-Action Family Originals, all of which are significantly scaled back or essentially eliminated, leading to the departure of most of the staff, led by Jennifer. O’Connell EVP, Non-Fiction & Live-Action Family Originals for HBO Max; Jennifer Kim, Senior Vice President, International Originals for HBO Max; Michael Quigley, EVP Content Acquisitions at HBO Max; and Linda Lowy, EVP Casting for WarnerMedia’s HBO Max, TNT, TBS and truTV.
I hear the layoffs are being made this morning via video conferencing. The cuts are part of the WBD leadership’s pledge to find at least $3 billion in savings.
Despite incessant rumors of HBO Max’s scripted team, leadership under Bloys remains pretty much intact – albeit with some changes of responsibility – with all executives who reported to Bloys sitting down and continuing to do so (except O’Connell, who is a double unscripted/scripted role).
HBO’s longtime head of comedy, EVP Programming Amy Gravittalso oversees the original comedy for HBO Max as the two groups are combined.
The move was announced a few weeks ago when news broke that Gravitt had started taking Max comedy pitches. Susanna Makkoswho turned comedy for HBO Max, most recently EVP Original Comedy and Animation for HBO Max and Adult Swim, stays on and reports to Gravitt.
Makkos reported to HBO Max’s Head of Original Content Sarah Aubrey, which also remains. The veteran development manager, who has an extensive drama background, will continue to oversee Max Original dramas and add a new international programming role, working with the WBD International team, led by Gerhard Zeiler, to coordinate the programming groups internationally, country by country.
I hear the rationale behind merging the HBO and Max comedy divisions is that there is more overlap in comedy between the two brands than in drama. That is illustrated by Max comedies like Hacking and of course, Sex and the city follow up And just like that…that would fit just fine on HBO.
The divergence is greater in drama. where Max has gone for broader, pop culture content. Aubrey’s focus in the future will be on large, largely IP-based tent poles. (Joey Chavez continues as EVP Programming and lead for Max Originals drama, reporting to Aubrey.) That includes high-profile DC series the peacemaker and the coming the penguin and green lantern, all of which are in flux, as well as another upcoming series, Dunewho is now casting, and a It series customization, which is in rapid development. In addition to the peacemaker, Max has had success with dramas based on WB series IP, including: Liars and Gossip Girl.
In the past month, there have also been rampant rumors of Max’ scripted slate being stripped, with numerous shows canceled and development re-evaluated or even cut. I hear some third-party projects in development have been released recently, but no major changes are planned for the in-house/Warner Bros. TV-produced scripted slate outside of the recently announced rollout of children’s and family programs.
WBD’s dedication to Max’s original programming was recently highlighted by WBD CEO David Zaslav during the company’s quarterly earnings call, where he also confirmed that Bloys’ team will remain seated.
“Quality is what matters. Quality is what Casey and that team deliver. It’s the best team in the business. We’re doubling that HBO team,” Zaslav said. “They’ve all committed under contract and we’re going to spend dramatically more this year and next year than we spent the year before.”
He later added, “The majority of the people on Casey’s team are locked up.”
Max Original’s reality, International, Acquisitions and Casting cuts aren’t surprising. With the impending merger of HBO Max and non-fiction Discovery+ into one platform, HBO Max had already paused new development of unscripted series. O’Connell’s other area at HBO Max and Live-Action Family Originals was also recently put on hold.
Going forward, existing Max unscripted series will continue or premiere as planned and, if they perform well, will continue to exist. There simply won’t be any new development in light of the large volume of non-fiction fares coming out of Discovery+ when the two services merge next summer.
HBO Max’s reality roster includes shows such as: Selena + Chef, which has been renewed for a fourth season; fboy island, which is airing its second season; and Legendary, which recently premiered its third season. The move will be a blow to the unscripted community, as HBO was known to pay Max between $1.5 million and $2 million per episode of some of its unscripted shows, well above Discovery’s usual rates. which generally add up to about $500,000 per hour.
The elimination of the HBO Max casting division syncs the streamer with HBO, which never had an in-house casting division and instead used casting directors for individual shows.
The situation is comparable to the phasing out of Max’s international group. HBO’s drama and comedy departments had forged their own co-productions for series like I can destroy you and years and yearssomething that would probably be duplicated on the Max side.
The downsizing of the HBO/Max acquisition team, which has closed library deals, comes amid a collapse of the Pay 1 window in the new era of vertically integrated movie studios largely supplying their streaming platforms, and a decline in series sales by third parties for the same reason. The last major Pay 1 pact for HBO/Max, a 10-year deal with 20th Century, which was recently restructured to include 20th Century and Searchlight movies shared with Disney’s Disney+ and Hulu, is coming to an end with the new Avatar movie in 2023. On the TV side, South Park is a rare non-Warner Bros. TV-produced series whose library was snatched by HBO Max; it is slated to move to its corporate streamer, Paramount+, in 2025.
The moves further dismantle the Max structure as a standalone entity with its own infrastructure built under Kevin Reilly. The process began shortly after HBO’s Bloys added Max’ content operation to its purview in 2020 with the shutdown of Warner Max, a movie label launched by the previous regime to provide mid-budget movies exclusively for the streamer.
At HBO, isolated layoffs are expected in programming, production and BA.