Zaz & His Ax Man

David Zaslav
Warner Bros. Discovery C.E.O. David Zaslav. Photo by Amanda Edwards/Getty Images
Dylan Byers
June 17, 2022

Wall Street has been promised a more svelte Warner Bros. Discovery, which is staring down a recession with about $55 billion in debt, and C.E.O. David Zaslav is moving aggressively to trim the fat. Zaz and his ax man, C.F.O. Gunnar Wiedenfels, have been unflinching in their drive to “identify synergies” which seems to be all the more pressing after J.P. Morgan downgraded the WBD stock earlier this week, sending it down to around $14 a share. The cuts started, of course, with the infamous decision to kill CNN+ before it ever really got a chance to prove itself, and were soon followed by cuts to scripted programming at TNT and TBS, and, most recently, about 30 percent of the ad sales staff, or nearly 1,000 jobs.

Needless to say, Zaz and Gunnar have a lot more work to do to get to their $3 billion savings target, and this understandably has a lot of people inside the company in a state of panic. Most anxious today, it seems, are members of the HBO Max unscripted team that is responsible for reality shows like FBoy Island and The Hype. In fact, some of these employees are so concerned that they started leaking news my way that layoffs would be announced today. Perhaps they were just testing the waters, because I’m reliably told that there are no plans to announce layoffs today. And yet, I think it’s safe to say that in the near term, their concerns are well-founded. Discovery already has various teams who are poised to expand control of unscripted—which is why Turner unscripted chief Corie Henson is also leaving the company. Some synergies are hard to identify, others are obvious. 

By the way, lest there was any concern, the impending layoffs at HBO Max unscripted will almost certainly not extend to HBO Documentaries, a crown jewel that certainly means too much to HBO, and Zaz, to ever be disbanded. Presumably Zaz understands the immense value that division brings to the awards space and the cache it garners around town. Documentaries and unscripted can have incredible R.O.I., but you don’t need multiple studios producing the same kind of work within a single publicly traded entity.