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An estimated 70 staffers have been let go as Sarah Aubrey adds international but loses comedy oversight.
By Lesley Goldberg
Television Editor, West Coast
As expected, layoffs have hit Casey Bloys’ HBO Max and HBO teams.
An estimated 14 percent of Bloys’ teams — an estimated 70 people — have been let go as part of the workforce reduction following the merger of WarnerMedia with Discovery. The moves are the latest step in cost-cutting for the combined Warner Bros. Discovery under CEO David Zaslav.
As part of the layoffs, Sarah Aubrey will continue to oversee the HBO Max originals drama slate and add international programming alongside the WBD international division led by Gerhard Zeiler. HBO Max comedy, however, will now fall under the oversight of HBO head of comedy Amy Gravitt with Max’s Suzanna Makkos reporting directly to the former. Gravitt, a well-regarded HBO veteran with a strong track record, will now oversee the combined comedy department. Joey Chavez, exec vp programming, will continue to report to Aubrey as a lead for Max dramas.
International co-productions — like I May Destroy You — will now be handled by the drama and comedy groups. With Warners titles already earmarked for HBO Max, there was less of a need for an acquisitions group, especially given the reduced need for third-party titles.
Following reduction in HBO Max nonfiction and live-action family originals, both departments have been severely impacted by the layoffs. HBO Max original reality — led by Jennifer O’Connell — as well as casting, international and acquisitions are the four departments that are the most impacted, along with business affairs and production. The latter two departments are being trimmed to eliminate staffing redundancies, part of Zaslav’s plan to find $3 billion in post-merger cost savings. The rest of Bloys’ programming direct reports remain unchanged.
With the influx of unscripted programming from Discovery, HBO Max had little to no need to continue its focus on originals. Current HBO Max unscripted originals will remain on the platform, with renewal decisions based on performance. Their oversight will shift to Discovery execs going forward.
Additional layoffs at other WBD divisions are expected, but this is it for Bloys’ team. The cuts end weeks of wild speculation about how deep they would be, including suggestions that the bulk of HBO Max’s originals would be jettisoned. That is not the case, however, as Bloys and Aubrey continue to grow a slate that includes hits And Just Like That, The Sex Lives of College Girls and Gossip Girl.
HBO Max and Discovery+ will be merged into one service next year. Executives are currently debating a new name for the service as sources say much of the discussion is if the HBO name remains part of it or if a more broad name for the service would work better. There are no cancellations as part of Monday’s layoffs. HBO will also not be a tile on whatever the new combined platform is. Budgets are also not being impacted as sources say they will only grow to meet the growing prices for content and top talent.
Here’s Bloys’ memo to staff outlining the changes:
First, I want to thank and acknowledge all of you for the unparalleled, incredible work you’ve done across all of our programming efforts. This team has achieved successes over an unprecedented stretch of challenges—from 140 Emmy nominations across our brand to the recent coverage celebrating HBO Max as one of the best streaming services in the market. I commend your focus and commitment to excellence through these very uncertain times.
Unfortunately, the environment in which we operate is changing rapidly, and it is up to us to continue to refine our model to chart a course for long term success. As you heard from David Zaslav during our last earnings call, producing top-tier HBO/Max scripted content is crucial to WBD’s future. Part of this process involves an honest assessment of what we need moving forward.
To best align our strengths and strategy with the challenges and opportunities ahead, I am announcing the following organizational changes.
Max Scripted Originals
Sarah Aubrey will continue to oversee the Max Originals drama slate as well as expand her responsibilities to include a key strategic global role. Since the platform’s inception, Sarah has been an indefatigably dynamic leader, with a diverse and long list of successes including The Flight Attendant, Peacemaker, And Just Like That…, The Sex Lives of College Girls, and The Staircase, among many others. Building on this, and as our company grows in its global aspiration and reach, Sarah’s remit will include working alongside Gerhard Zeiler and his team to define and implement our international programming strategy. Joey Chavez, EVP Programming, will continue to report to Sarah as the lead for Max Originals drama, and together they will focus on developing and producing tentpole IP series such as Peacemaker, Dune, The Penguin, and Green Lantern.
Suzanna Makkos will now report into Amy Gravitt, Head of Comedy and EVP, Programming for HBO. Suzanna has led an incredibly successful comedy slate for Max Originals, punctuated by the acclaimed, Emmy-winning series Hacks, as well as The Sex Lives of College Girls, Rap Sh!t, and Julia, and also animated series including the upcoming Velma and Young Love. This transition will align our scripted comedy slate under one powerhouse, genre-redefining team; and by unifying this department under Amy, we’ll be able to maximize our effectiveness in continuing to build out our slate across both the HBO and Max Originals brand. Suzanna will also continue to lead Adult Swim adult animation programming.
Besides Amy now overseeing a combined HBO/HBO Max comedy group, HBO leadership remains unchanged. Francesca Orsi, HBO’s Head of Drama and EVP Programming will continue to lead the HBO Originals drama team. Nancy Abraham, EVP Programming, and Lisa Heller, EVP Programming, will continue to lead HBO’s documentary slate, and Nina Rosenstein, EVP Programming, continues to lead our late-night, talk, and specials content.
As we contemplate the Discovery content offering joining HBO Max for an eventual combined platform, we have had to make the incredibly difficult decision to disband or restructure the following teams, none of which reflects the contributions of the individuals impacted here.
Max Originals Non-Fiction & Live-Action Family Originals
Jen O’Connell and her talented team have led a diverse, impactful, and entertaining slate, with titles ranging from competition series including the Emmy-winning Legendary to FBOY Island, 12 Dates of Christmas, and Finding Magic Mike; to documentaries such as Class Action Park, The Way Down, and On The Record; and family programming such as Gordita Chronicles. I can’t say enough about my respect for Jen’s talent, vision, and passionate commitment to inclusive content. As we move forward, we will not add new reality/documentaries to the Max slate. For existing Max reality programming, we will make renewal decisions based on traditional measures of success.
International Originals, HBO Max
In light of Warner Bros. Discovery’s sizable International footprint, led by Gerhard Zeiler, we will no longer have a U.S. team dedicated to pursuing these opportunities. During her time at HBO Max, Jeniffer Kim, SVP International Originals, was responsible for programming international content including the acclaimed limited series It’s A Sin, and the Peabody Award-winning Sort Of. I extend my sincere gratitude to Jen and her team for all of their inspired work. Going forward, similar to the model employed at HBO for titles such as Years and Years, I May Destroy You, and My Brilliant Friend, the individual drama and comedy teams will evaluate and pursue any international co-productions they may find valuable outside of Warner Bros. Discovery.
Casting, HBO Max
To mirror the model that has proved successful over the years at HBO, we will no longer have an in-house casting department for Max Originals. Linda Lowy, EVP Casting, is one of the most gifted casting executives in the business. She and her team have a great deal to be proud of, and the impact of their contributions can be seen across the breakthrough Max Original series.
Content Acquisitions, HBO & HBO Max
Our model here will also change, with a significant reduction in the size of the team. This reflects an evolving need as the industry moves away from third party Pay 1 deals and acquisitions, and as a company we leverage our own library from the Warner Bros. portfolio. Michael Quigley, EVP, Content Acquisition, who joined the HBO Max team shortly before the platform’s launch, will be departing. In his time with the company, Michael spearheaded key acquisition deals—including South Park—and has led a talented team based in Atlanta, New York, and Los Angeles. He has been a deft leader in the changing marketplace, and I wish him all future successes. Royce Battleman , SVP, Content Acquisition, an essential member of HBO’s Acquisitions team for close to three decades, will lead the newly restructured department and now report to Glenn Whitehead, President, Business Affairs & Production for HBO & HBO Max.
Although I am confident these structural changes will allow us to sustain a thriving business model, these decisions have been extremely painful to make. We operate in an environment where we must adapt in real-time to industry and company exigencies. None of this lessens the blow of parting ways with such talented, trusted, hardworking, and celebrated teammates. I extend to each of them my deepest appreciation as they transition to their next opportunity.
More to come soon as I’ll gather my core team, where I can provide more insight on these changes and the road ahead, and I will do my best to answer any questions that you may have.
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