Programs

Warner Bros. Discovery grapples with the cost of cutting pipeline programs – The Hollywood Reporter

While Warner Bros. TV Group suffered a series of layoffs in October, the news that attracted the most attention seemed to catch the management of the newly merged Warner Bros. unawares. Discovery: the closure of the long-standing workshops of the writers and directors of WBTVG.

The employees made redundant in the wake of the closures – shop manager Rebecca Windsor and administrator Elly Lachman – made up just two of the 125 positions cut on October 11 at the television group, but the decision sparked a backlash among the vocal community of writers on social media, followed by a quick retort the next day from the DGA.

The guild claimed in a statement that canceling the workshops violated the terms of its 2014 collective bargaining agreement requiring each studio to run a development program for emerging writers, with a focus on improving diversity at the television. Half an hour later, WBD announced that its own report of the Workshops’ death was greatly exaggerated; they were actually moving under the jurisdiction of the company’s DEI unit.

Whether the move was planned or not, the financial motivations are clear: the TV group had a cost-cutting goal to achieve, and as a non-revenue-generating line, the workshops were easy prey, even if their costs were relatively light. relative to the production budget of a given television show: the salaries of two employees, plus the salaries of the writers and the episodic production fees for the workshop participants.

Still, it was around $2 million that WBD chief financial officer Gunnar Wiedenfels could reduce WBTV’s content-focused registries — and easily offload as the company’s DEI priority when the need arises.

Details of the new workshops are yet to be determined, but WBD’s US DEI manager Karen Horne said The Hollywood Reporter that they will involve at least one significant change: writers and directors who get jobs through the workshops would no longer be paid by the programs themselves, but by their individual shows. This follows the model established by Horne for the director pipeline program at his former company, NBCUniversal. (NBCU’s DEI brand, NBCU Launch, covers expenses for two viewing episodes for each participating director; Sony TV’s writers program splits the costs 50-50 with individual shows.)

Opinions are divided as to which approach – paid by the program or paid by the show – is more effective in achieving the expressed goal of creating sustainable and ascending careers for participants. The argument behind program writers and directors not being paid any differently than the rest of the writers room or other episodic directors is to help erase the perception that they are token or action hires positive.

Additionally, alumni from the various network programs and studio pipelines have over the years reported having difficulty getting rehired on shows once they were no longer “free”. And the stigma is often exacerbated with programs under the DEI umbrella, what WBD workshops are now.

On the other hand, proponents of the program-subsidized model argue that in practice, shows simply won’t accept workshop attendees if they have to pay them, especially with ever tighter budgets. Many working writers report a trend towards smaller, top-heavy rooms with few vacancies for entry-level writers.

But ultimately, like The Black List founder Franklin Leonard sees it, is, “If people are debating who’s responsible for paying for the diverse writer, everyone’s already failed.”

This story first appeared in the October 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.