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Zaz Lit 101 & Roger “The Grinch” Lynch

Fairly or unfairly, David Zaslav has become a convenient caricature for the various pitfalls of legacy media businesses.
Fairly or unfairly, David Zaslav has become a convenient caricature for the various pitfalls of legacy media businesses. Photo: Leon Bennett/WireImage
Dylan Byers
November 15, 2023

Chief executives like to philosophize—it’s one of the ways that the art of corporate governance, strategic investment, and financial sponge-wringing ascends to a higher art form. David Zaslav, for instance, occasionally likens his leadership of Warner Bros. Discovery to the painting of an enormous fresco. In private conversations with friends, he uses this analogy to emphasize the massive time and effort required to combine two disparate legacy media assets, restructure the business, and generate cash flow, and also to dismiss what he sees as the myopia of his critics. In Zaz’s telling, his detractors in Hollywood, the press, and on Wall Street are too worried about the inevitable plaster falling on the floor—layoffs, Batgirl, the TCM cuts, etcetera—to recognize the efficient, cash-flow-positive economic masterpiece (in support of Barbie and White Lotus, among others) that he is creating above them.

A year and a half in, of course, the critics are now starting to wonder how well this so-called turnaround artist knows how to paint. WBD remains saddled with a colossal $43 billion net debt load, its stock is down nearly 57 percent since the merger, and, fairly or unfairly, Zaslav has become a convenient caricature for the various pitfalls of legacy media businesses. The New York Times Magazine’s new, triple-bylined opus on Zaslav, which arrived on Wednesday, portrays Zaz as a ruthless cost-cutter and “out-of-touch and overpaid corporate C.E.O.” who fundamentally misjudged the demands and sensitivities of modern Hollywood. In short, there’s a lot of plaster.