The Hollywood Villain of the Year Is…

Gunnar Wiedenfels
Nobody at WBD has better personified its controversial strategy than Gunnar Wiedenfels, the company’s genial chief financial officer. Photo: Sven Hoppe/picture alliance via Getty Images
Matthew Belloni
December 22, 2022

Let’s call 2022 the year of the write-off. Or maybe the year that most entertainment people would like to write off. Or, if we’re really being honest, it was the year that Hollywood itself was written-off—and not like when a TV star bails on a hit because he thinks he’s a movie star.

We don’t need to rehash the awfulness of 2022 in this space. Suffice to say the Roaring 2010s finally ended, media companies lost a combined $500 billion in value, per the Financial Times, layoffs and cutbacks ensued, everyone freaked out, and a pall of anxiety and confusion took hold. “A perfect storm of bad news,” the analyst Michael Nathanson said. “I’ve been covering this sector a long time and I’ve never seen such a bad collection of data points before.” Happy holidays.  

Against that backdrop, Netflix all-of-a-sudden discovered that advertising was cool and fun, and Disney panic-swapped its Bobs. But I think we can all agree that no company represented the industry’s perilous state more than Warner Bros. Discovery,—a mashed-together content Frankenstein born of AT&T desperation and investor John Malone’s fear that Discovery wasn’t big enough to transition from cable to streaming. Launched in April (yes, it’s only been eight months) and saddled with more than $50 billion in debt, its C.E.O. David Zaslav may have moved into Robert Evans’ house and sat behind Jack Warner’s desk, but he arrived in Burbank with a mandate to cut $3 billion and cut fast. To Zaz’s credit, he was never coy about that.