Three titans of U.S. cinema sprung into action last week when Turner Classic Movies, the classic film cable channel owned by Warner Bros. Discovery, was threatened by layoffs.
The channel was “a precious resource of cinema,” directors Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, and Paul Thomas Anderson said at the time. The three revealed that Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav had proactively reached out to them to reassure them that Turner Classic Movies would be “untouched and protected.”
On Wednesday, the three directors revealed how closely involved they would be in the channel’s future: Spielberg, Scorsese and Anderson will now be helping to curate content for the channel.
The “unique arrangement”, the three directors said in a statement, would honor “the TCM legacy while also involving us on curation and programming.” The three are not being paid, reports IndieWire.
“TCM is not immune to the very real pressure on the entire linear ecosystem, but we have taken steps to ensure that we stay true to the mission of the network,” Warner Bros. Discovery wrote in a statement. The conglomerate also claimed that its investment in the channel had grown by 30%, with plans “to build on that in future years.”
Last week, Warner Bros. Discovery started a round of layoffs across its television channels, including cuts at Discovery, the Food Network, and Adult Swim. But losses at Turner Classic Movies, particularly layoffs of executives involved in programming and partnerships, drew the ire of Hollywood.
“Please don’t fuck with [Turner Classic Movies],” tweeted actor Ryan Reynolds after the news broke, calling the channel a “fixture in my life.”
Warner Bros. Discovery is also moving the responsibility for Turner Classic Movies to the company’s film division, instead of to television. And the company gave at least one executive his job back, confirming that Charlie Tabesh, the channel’s programming chief, would stay.
Zaslav took over as CEO of the newly-merged Warner Bros. Discovery in April 2022, and soon embarked on a massive cost-cutting effort. He nixed the already-completed “Batgirl” movie, set for release on streaming, last August, saying he couldn’t “find an economic case” for the film.
The CEO also revamped the company’s streaming service to include lower-cost reality programming alongside higher-cost prestige television shows under a single streaming brand titled “Max,” dropping “HBO” from its original name earlier this year.
Despite initial hopes that Zaslav, a classic movie fan, might leave Turner Classic Movies alone, the channel soon had to deal with orders to cut costs, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Executives were first told to cut millions from their budget, then were asked to cut overall salary spending by two-thirds, a decision that led to last week’s controversial layoffs.
Warner Bros. Discovery reported a quarterly net loss of $1.1 billion for the most recent quarter. But unlike its other legacy media counterparts, it may have succeeded in making streaming profitable. The company earned $50 million in quarterly income from its streaming division, compared to a $511 million and almost $660 million in net streaming losses for Paramount and Disney respectively.
“Our U.S. streaming business is no longer a bleeder,” Zaslav said on a call with analysts in May.
However, Warner Bros. latest flagship release, The Flash, is currently having a dismal run at the box office. The film, starring the speedster character from DC Comics, has grossed just $91 million domestically thus far, out of a total $215 million global box office. The film cost $300 million to produce and market, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
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