Fired HBO Max executives reveal Warner Bros. kills diversity and woos ‘Central America’

FFormer HBO Max executives say the streaming service found itself with few people of color overseeing its diverse lineup of programming as Warner Bros. Discovery continues its ongoing corporate reorganization.

The platform reportedly laid off nearly 70 people this month. That includes all teams overseeing unscripted content, kids and family, and international content, according to two former HBO Max executives who asked not to be named.

These three divisions, responsible for buying shows from production companies and creators and working closely with them during production, have now completely disappeared.

A former employee says up to 13 people of color previously tasked with developing shows like The Chronicles of Gordita and the docuseries in Spanish Menudo: Forever young have been dropped, likely influencing the types of shows and movies that are greenlit in the future. Among those fired are Jen Kim, an Asian woman who served as senior vice president of the international team, and Kaela Barnes, a black woman who worked under Kim.

“I don’t think anyone knows how white the staff is,” a former executive told The Daily Beast.

Former HBO Max staffers say there are almost no non-white people left in the upper ranks of content, with one naming Joey Chavez, the theater’s executive vice president, as one of the few people of color still there. Because HBO Max and the original HBO operate somewhat independently, a former executive admitted that “there may be a black woman on HBO’s side. Maybe.”

The layoffs “amplified the lack of diversity at HBO,” another former executive told The Daily Beast. “HBO is the most cohesive part of this umbrella. Instead of trying to figure out how to incorporate some of the [Max] executives in HBO, they just made this radical cut of three divisions: children, family and international. Many black and brown people have lost their jobs.

Since parent company Warner Bros. merged with Discovery earlier this year, Warner employees are grappling with the newly created company’s changing values. Discovery CEO David Zaslav has been tasked with helping Warner out of a $50 billion hole. He arrived like a wrecking ball, tearing up CNN’s $300 million streaming service, CNN+, and pledging to steer the Warner-owned news channel away from “advocacy” journalism.

Other changes have occurred over the past two weeks.

Earlier this month it was announced that bat girl, the $90 million movie slated for HBO Max starring Afro-Latin actress Leslie Grace, would be scrapped altogether in favor of a tax deduction. Over the weekend, CNN correspondent and host Brian Stelter, a frequent target of right-wing critics, was fired from the network.

Former Warner employees believe these changes are as much about business as they are about reshaping the ideological perception of Warner properties. All of this points to the same goal, they say: a rejection of left-leaning or highly diverse content in favor of more consistent, Central American-friendly pricing. The lack of diversity in content staff might just facilitate this goal.

HBO is the most homogeneous part of this umbrella. Instead of trying to figure out how to incorporate some of the [Max] executives in HBO, they just made this radical cut of three divisions: children, family and international. Many black and brown people have lost their jobs.

In a statement to The Daily Beast, HBO highlighted shows like Euphoria, Rap shit!, A dark lady sketch show and the scary onesall of which are led by various characters.

“HBO and HBO Max have always shown a commitment to diverse programming and storytelling, and always will,” the company said.

An internal chart comparing Discovery+ and HBO Max audiences showed a stark demographic difference between the two streamers. Where HBO Max is popular with various groups, singles, and hybrid car drivers, Discovery+ is popular with white married people who drive SUVs, minivans, and “travel buses.” HBO Max viewers are on TikTok and Instagram, while Discovery+ viewers use social media platforms Facebook and Twitter, with the added caveat, “where applicable”. HBO Max viewers do not have children. Discovery+ viewers are either “empty nesters” or grandchildren. Discovery may be trying to pull HBO into its orbit as it focuses on what it does best.

HBO Max’s reality offerings presented an obvious sticking point for new bosses. Where Discovery properties like TLC and HGTV send in camera crews to film what they can find, HBO Max’s offerings are more carefully crafted. They’re sometimes backed by stars like Selena Gomez or Steph Curry, who have the power to command big paychecks, and they’re noticeably sleeker, with smoother edits and more complicated camera setups that add up to their budgets.

A former executive describes Discovery+ as a “more general audience platform that lacks the specificity that HBO Max was tailored to. I think Discovery is just a very “all” audience, [they] I don’t want to do political, topical things, alienate Central America – more Chip and Joanna,” they said, referring to the home improvement show. Fixer Upper: Welcome Home hosted by Chip and Joanna Gaines.

“If David Zaslav had his wish, he would just schedule Chip and Joanna all day,” the exec said. “There was just a huge, ‘We don’t need you. You don’t deliver the things that we focus on.

The shift in perspective could also partly explain why so many titles have recently disappeared from HBO Max’s platform. Our sources agree that moves are mostly about money. The company can claim tax relief for costs associated with certain shows as long as it promises to stop profiting from them, which means eliminating them altogether.

“They negate a perspective lens that I think doesn’t exist when you watch Discovery-branded shows,” said a former staffer.

Speaking about the company’s plans to combine HBO Max and Discovery+ into one giant streaming service in the near future, the laid-off executive said: “Don’t be surprised if there’s a new name for the platform. .”

Overall, it feels like HBO Max’s executives of color were just another casualty in the company’s quest to get out of debt, content quality be damned.

“As far as people who see themselves reflected, whether ethnic or LGBTQ, when you have people who are diverse, the lens with which they evaluate [content] factors into things that I think my white colleagues just don’t think about,” said a former executive.

“It’s deep,” said another. “What are they going to do with this disproportionate number of people of color who have been laid off? They have to replace them to some extent. Or do they not care? That’s what we were told, they don’t care.

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