Monday, August 08, 2022

DISCOVERY trashes itself in the entertainment industry (Ava and C.I.)

WARNER BROTHES is under new management, as Miki Howard might put it.  And we'll say it out loud: That's not a good thing.

Various TV shows on the WB-owned HBO MAX have been and are being cancelled.  Last week, the news was that a new Scooby Doo animated film and a live action BATGIRL film would not be released.  Not released to theaters, not released on HBO MAX.  Instead, the films would be buried.  

Now in TV shows, films and fictional books, movies are cancelled all the time.  In real life?  No.  

In 1971, WARNER BROTHERS sort of cancelled A GLIMPSE OF THE TIGER -- the film, starring Elliott Gould with Kim Darby co-starring and Anthony Harvey directing.  There was one problem after another on the set.  The studio blamed Elliott and his drug use.  Elliott countered that he was not the problem.  At one point, the director stormed off the set and the project.  He would return.  He and Elliott would exchange punches.  WARNER BROTHERS shut down production.  They could have filed for insurance at that point.  Instead, WB's John Calley contacted Barbra Streisand.  The actress had now starred in multiple films and earned an Academy Award for FUNNY GIRL.  Could WARNER's finish the project with her in the lead?  She said yes in part to mitigate any damage Elliott might incur (the two shared a child, Jason Gould, and were in the process of divorcing).  She agreed to Peter Bogdanovich as the director and a script rewrite resulted in WHAT'S UP DOC? -- one of the biggest films of 1972.

Though the production had been vastly out of control, the studio briefly shut down filming but didn't shut down the film.  They knew that they had a good chance of landing Barbra (a more bankable film star than Elliott) and that meant they had a good chance of having a hit via some emotional extortion (they played on Barbra's love for her soon-to-be-ex-husband).  HEAVEN'S GATE was a film that never should have been made.  Michael Cimeno did not have an understanding of the human condition -- which is why THE DEER HUNTER is about as deep as a LITTLE GOLDEN BOOK.  More to the point, the film was not a hit.  And it couldn't be widely seen and receive any Academy Awards -- the studio knew that.  As Steve Bach outlines in FINAL CUT: ART, MONEY AND EGO IN THE MAKING OF HEAVEN'S GATE, United Artists knew they had to make sure Academy voters saw select reviews and not the film itself.  

UA was a small studio and it depended upon relationships with artists.  That's why Michael Cimeno was not fired during the filming of HEAVEN'S GATE -- a point Steve Bach dances around and obscures, but that was the issue.  Often confused with FIRST ARTISTS (whose successes included Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw's THE GETAWAY and Barbra Streisand's THE MAIN EVENT and A STAR IS BORN), UNITED ARTISTS would last a few more years than the other studio.  (What is called UA today is not UA.  After MGM took it over, it really did cease to exist as anything but a vanity label.)

UA was doomed primarily by its inability to attract new artists after the debacle of HEAVEN'S GATE.  Yes, indulging Michael Cimeno made them look bad on Wall Street.  But the attacks on Cimeno, after backing the film, bothered a significant number of members of the film community. Instead of taking the loss for a bad film that they funded, they went to the press with horror stories about Cimeno, undermining him in an attempt to save their own asses.  Soon, they'd lose Woody Allen to ORION.  They retained the James Bond films but little else.

And then there was YENTL.  A musical starring Barbra Streisand was seen as a money maker.  Barbra wanted to direct YENTL and UA had agreed to it.  After the Cimeno debacle, they began to go lukewarm on the deal and tried to punish her -- making her personally responsible for any overage, underpaying her as an actress and as a director, imposing a schedule for the editing phase that was nearly impossible, etc.  Barbra produced, directed, starred in, co-wrote and oversaw the editing of YENTL which was a hit in 1983 but the pressure put on her -- especially during the editing -- was like nothing a studio had done before -- with a man or a woman.  Between the way they sabotaged Cimeno and the way they disrespected Stresiand, UA's image was dirt. 

WARNER BROTHERS, by contrast, had worked hard to develop relationships with 'the talent.'  That included Barbra, Clint Eastwood, Goldie Hawn, etc.  And that allowed WARNER's to bring in a number of artists over the years.  Allowed.  Past tense.  Despite Hollywood being an entrenched world, when things do change, they change quickly.

And things are changing for WARNER BROTHERS, HBO, HBO MAX, et al.

AT&T has sold  WARNER BROTHERS to DISCOVERY and it's a new era for a historic studio -- new, but not good.

Unlike 20TH CENTURY FOX, WARNER's didn't need to change its name to move into the 21st century but it did need to take a few steps.  The most successful step was in streaming.  HBO MAX was created to rival NETFLIX. And it was something worth bragging about.  In a little over a year, they had not just established themselves but they had become a content producing streamer that people wanted to subscribe to.

AT&T wasn't keeping up with the times and DISCOVERY is the broadcast equivalent of THE SUN tabloid.  DISCOVERY's version of a streamer is basically bad reality programs that play like public access.  AT&T never knew what it was.  As far back as 2014, they were planning on phasing out landlines.  They're phasing out DSL.  They're not really sure what they are or who they'll serve.  Combing the low quality of DISCOVERY with the dubious nature of AT&T and you're left with the new WARNER BROTHERS that stands for nothing.

HBO is no longer a first-rate stop for show runners.  That's due to the ongoing blood letting at HBO MAX -- which, to be clear, talent is not drawing a line around and is instead seeing it as all just "HBO."  There are other players that can be pitched new series.  That's bad for HBO and HBO MAX because they really depend on new show runners -- existing show runners at HBO  coming up with new successes for HBO has been a very rare hat trick.  

But BATGIRL and SCOOB'S HOLIDAY HAUNT really are at the core of ongoing industry discussions.  

BATGIRL, as Marcia noted, being shelved forever has sexist and racist implications.  

But it has other implications.  

If you're a director, those are serious implications.  You don't spend a few months filming and that's it.  You are developing the project (unless you're a last minute replacement) and you are casting it and you are directing it and then you are editing it.  If you're a producer, you have similar time issues on a project.  You are dedicating at least two years to a project and you know that it could be cancelled, put into turn around, whatever, at any minute.  You know that and, as a director or producer, you work in that system.

No one has worked in the system that DISCOVERY has created.


Remember those films?

Sometimes, they were always planned as that.  However, sometimes a studio would lose faith in a film or be displeased by the final cut and shuffle it off to video with no theatrical release.  Sometimes, a film can overcome that in the long run via a cultural reevaluation.  But you cannot reevaluate what no one can see.  And, if they take the insurance money for BATGIRL and SCOOB'S HOLIDAY HAUNT, no one will ever be able to reevaluate anything.

A deal was made with the understanding that when BATGIRL was completed, it would air on HBO MAX.

Now that's not happening.

We spoke to three producers and four directors who had films in the top 20 top grossing films of 2021.  All seven told us they're not doing business with HBO or WARNERS or whatever they call themselves -- one added "not under this regime."  Why would they put their time into a project when, at the end of the day, DISCOVERY might just decide to grab the insurance money instead.  

We also spoke with one agent at CAA who questions how an insurance company can write off a completed film just because the studio doesn't want to release it -- "I'd love to see that written insurance claim," he told us. 

Films are not going to turn out the way a script reads.  Filming will change that.  

Studio heads may or may not like the completed film.  

But BATGIRL was not supposed to be released to theaters.  Yes, after getting Michael Keaton back as Batman for the film and Brendan Fraser as the villain, it might have seemed worth pursuing that possibility.  However, it was always intended to be a film that would debut on HBO MAX.  We're not understanding how what is in fact a TV movie is unreleasable?  You put it on streaming and it's streamed or not.  If it has any curiosity value, it will get a certain number of streams regardless of the quality.

BATGIRL has built in curiosity factors.  First off, Batgirl has been a popular TV and comic book character since she was created in the late 60s.  Second of all, Brendan has been on a career rebound.  Third, Michael Keaton is still considered by many to have been the best Batman.  That's three curiosity factors it had two weeks ago.  A fourth emerged last week -- people expecting the film to be a train wreck since  DISCOVERY is saying it will never, ever be released. 

 These despotic moves may be seen as 'cost cutters' by the 'brains' at DISCOVERY  What they don't seem to realize is now that they're in the entertainment industry, they're not going to be able to bully around the talent.  Every move they have made since taking over has been wrong footed.  They are harming an existing brand and they are fools if they don't grasp the work that went into creating HBO MAX and making it a success.  A producer told us, "When Coke bought COLUMBIA in the early 80s, a lot of people freaked.  I didn't.  I knew they wouldn't last ten years owning COLUMBIA.  If DISCOVERY can't adapt, look for it to unload in less than five."  Let's all hope he is not just a good producer but also a good psychic.
8/8 /22 piece corrected to note DISCOVERY's sole ownership.

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