David Zaslav likes his analogies with motor racing.
Chairman and CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery recently said, “If the linear business is a race car, we have a team of race car drivers.” “When we hear a noise or it’s in third gear, we know how to fix it. It’s a business we know well,” he said on the company’s second-quarter earnings call.
He thinks the same goes for the unscripted TV business, Discovery’s bread and butter, which is one of the reasons why HBO MaxThe unscripted division of, led by Jennifer O’Connell, has been cut as part of the latest round of layoffs.
The unscripted community, however, is upset that he pulled this particular car off the road.
HBO Max has had success in its short period of commissioning original reality series; Boy’s Island, a dating show hosted by Nikki Glaser, is widely considered a hit. Although the streamer won’t reveal the ratings, he noted last August that the show had the biggest premiere weekend for an original reality series Max, bursting into a crowded market with The single person universeLove is blind and The Island of Love.
Selena+Chef, a cooking format animated by Only murders in the building star Selena Gomez, was one of the IPC’s first pandemic hits which has now lasted four seasons, and Legendarya series of voguing contests from weird eye producer Scout Productions, has been applauded for bringing something new and more diverse to the competition space.
Considering how difficult it has become to launch a new breakout entertainment format, that’s not bad for a service that’s just over two years old.
HBO Max had become one of the premier destinations to develop and buy premium unscripted projects with a twist. The worry for many is that the newly combined service – a composite of HBO Max and Discovery+, which is due to be combined next summer, won’t be, and much of that will come down to budgets. “Devastating,” as a source told Deadline.
The streamer is known to pay nearly $2 million per hour for unscripted series, a figure that’s nearly four times the usual Discovery cap, outside of occasional high-profile talent-led projects. Producers and agents fear Discovery-led teams are looking for more 90 Day Engaged more Fboy Islands. While the former is a massive hit at a much lower price, these shows are incredibly rare to find and can become the sole focus of a channel or service.
However, there is still hope for future seasons for FBoy Island, Selena + Chef and Legendary. Deadline understands that no renewal or cancellation decisions have yet been made on these shows.
There are also still a handful of high-profile shows commissioned by O’Connell and his team that are active.
A revival of Greenlight Project, giving newcomers the chance to direct their own feature film, is in production by Issa Rae, Schitt’s Creek star and creator Dan Levy is still planning a series of competitions The big brunch with Chef’s table producer Boardwalk Pictures and Jason Momoa are still hosting a series of rock climbing competitions The climb.
“These shows are safe at this time,” a source told Deadline. “But no project is completely safe. Everything is evaluated. They’re gonna look at them all, it’s all financially driven right now, so just because it’s safe today doesn’t mean they don’t take another look and say “Maybe that the cancellation of the tax would be better”.
Two days after HBO finally confirmed the layoffs — such changes, particularly to unscripted shows, have been discussed for more than two months — the cuts were further fleshed out when it emerged that a series of unscripted shows would be removed from the platform.
These included About last night, a restart of Tales hosted by Stephen and Ayesha Curry, dating show narrated by Natasha Rothwell 12 dates of Christmaswhich had been quickly renewed for a second season after it first aired, and the dating format hosted by Yvonne Orji My mother, your father, in addition to docuseries The restlessness of the generationYA drama Gender+ion and a slew of anime series featuring hundreds of hours of sesame street specials.
A creator whose show was to be pulled from the service told Deadline it was “heartbreaking.” “It’s two years of my life, and many collaborators,” the author said.
The other unfortunate by-product of these business decisions is the ripple effect in terms of diversity. Look at this list of shows that are retired; About Last Night, 12 Christmas Dates and My Mother, Your Father were all led by various stars. Much of HBO Max’s unscripted crew was also diverse: three black women, including SVP, nonfiction original lineup Rebecca Quinn, and an Asian man.
“It was a very inclusive group,” a source said. “If you look at all the people getting let go and all the shows getting taken off, it’s like being whitewashed. It’s not part of their equation when they’re making decisions, but I just think they don’t care.
Their importance and what interests them will become clearer over the next 12 months.