HBO Max: Non-Scripted Community ‘Devastated’ By Cuts;  Ax falls hard on various panels and staff

HBO Max: Non-Scripted Community ‘Devastated’ By Cuts; Ax falls hard on various panels and staff

David Zaslav loves his racing analogies.

The President and CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery recently said, “If the linear business is a race car, we have a team of race car drivers.” “If we hear a noise or it’s in third gear, we know how to fix it. It’s a business we know well,” he said in announcing second-quarter results.

He believes the same is true of the unscripted television business, the bread and butter of Discovery, which is one of the reasons Jennifer O’Connell’s unscripted division of HBO Max, headed up, was axed as part of the latest round of layoffs.

However, the unscripted community is upset that he took that particular car off the road.

HBO Max has had success launching the original reality series in its short tenure; FBoy Island, a dating show hosted by Nikki Glaser, is widely considered a hit. Though the streamer isn’t disclosing ratings, it noted last August that the show had the biggest premiere weekend for a Max original reality series, breaking into a crowded market with The Bachelor Universe, Love Is Blind and Love Island.

Selena Gomz Selena + Cook

Selena + Koch HBO Max

Selena+Chef, a cooking format hosted by Only Murders In The Building star Selena Gomez, was an early IPC pandemic hit now running for four seasons, and Legendary, a voguing competition series by the Queer Eye Producers, Scout Productions, were hailed for bringing something fresh and diverse to the competition space.

Considering how difficult it’s become to launch a new breakout entertainment format, that’s not bad for a service that’s just over two years old.

HBO Max had become one of the top tier destinations for development and purchase of premium unscripted projects with a twist. The concern of many is that the newly combined service – a conglomerate of HBO Max and Discovery+ set to be combined next summer – won’t be and that will largely be down to budget. “Devastating,” a source told Deadline.

The streamer has been known to pay nearly $2 million an hour for unscripted series, a figure nearly four times Discovery’s usual cap, barring the occasional high-profile talented project. Producers and agents are concerned that Discovery-led teams will be searching for more 90 Day Fiancés across the FBoy Islands. While the former are a big hit at a much lower price, these shows are incredibly rare to find and can become the sole focal point of a channel or service.


Legendary HBO Max

However, there is still hope for future seasons for FBoy Island, Selena+Chef, and Legendary. Deadline understands no renewal or cancellation decisions have yet been made for these shows.

There are also a handful of high profile shows that have been ordered and are active by O’Connell and her team.

A Project Greenlight revival giving newcomers the opportunity to make their own feature film is in production from Schitt’s Creek star Issa Rae and creator Dan Levy, who still produces the competitive series The Big Brunch with Chef’s Table producers Boardwalk Pictures and Jason Momoa is cooking up the still-ongoing climbing competition series The Climb.

“Those shows are safe right now,” a source told Deadline. “But no project is completely safe. Everything is evaluated. They’re going to look at them all, everything is finance driven at the moment, so just because it’s safe today doesn’t mean they won’t look again and say, ‘Maybe the tax write-off would be better’.”

Two days after HBO finally confirmed the layoffs — such moves, particularly for unscripted ones, had been talked about for over two months — the cuts came further into focus when it emerged that a number of unscripted shows would be cut from the platforms.

Because of last night

About Last Night HBO Max

These included About Last Night, a Tattletales reboot hosted by Stephen and Ayesha Curry, the Natasha Rothwell-narrated dating show 12 Dates of Christmas, which was quickly renewed for a second season after it originally aired, and hosted by Yvonne Orji Dating format My Mom, Your Dad, in addition to the docuseries Generation Hustle, YA drama Genera+ion and a host of animated series including hundreds of hours of Sesame Street specials.

A creator whose show was set to be retired told Deadline it was “heartbreaking”. “That’s two years of my life and many employees gone,” said the author.

The other unfortunate by-product of these business decisions is the diversity knock-on effect. Check out this list of shows being pulled; About Last Night, 12 Dates of Christmas and My Mom, Your Dad were all headlined by different stars. Much of HBO Max’s unscripted team was also diverse: three black women, including SVP, Rebecca Quinn, Non-Fiction Original Programming, and one Asian man.

“It was a very inclusive group,” said a source. “When you look at all the people that are being fired and all the shows that are being pulled, it’s like being whitewashed. It’s not part of their equation when they’re making decisions, but I just don’t think they care.”

How much they care and what matters to them will become clearer over the next 12 months.