Warner Bros. Discovery took a lot of flak in 2022 for axing finished movies and series — most infamously, the Batgirl movie — and removing some legacy titles from its HBO Max streaming platform. As it turns out, the company may have been ahead of the curve.
A fresh wave of cost-cutting moves at other companies, ranging from Disney to AMC Networks, has made WBD CFO Gunnar Weidenfels seem prophetic.
“We got a lot of public noise about some of the content write-offs that we took, which is a reflection of an industry that went overboard and that went on a spending frenzy,” Weidenfels said at a Citibank conference on Jan. 5. “We shaved off a lot of the excess last year, and I think that’s something that everyone else in the industry is going to go through. We’re coming from an irrational time of overspending with very limited focus on return on investment, and I think others are going to have to make some adjustments that we, frankly, have behind us now.”
AMC Networks has been particularly aggressive in cutting back, axing already ordered second seasons of legal drama 61st Street and sci-fi series Moonhaven and rescinding series orders for Demascus and Invitation to a Bonfire. The sci-fi comedy Demascus and 61st Street had already wrapped production on their respective seasons, while Invitation to a Bonfire, starring Tatiana Maslany, was partway through filming.
The moves come as AMC Networks is looking for up to $400 million in write-downs for programming as it seeks to get on more stable financial ground. Sources tell that the company is prioritizing “core” shows — think: the Anne Rice dramas Interview With the Vampire and Mayfair Witches and the ongoing Walking Dead universe — and will likely be cutting back on development as well. (The company also announced a round of layoffs in December.)
Among the recent casualties are ABC’s Avalon, a drama series from David E. Kelley and Michael Connelly that was scuttled after production on a pilot (lead studio A+E Studios, which was producing with Disney’s 20th TV, is shopping the show); a feature film based on Comedy Central’s Workaholics at Paramount+, scrapped five weeks before filming was slated to begin; and Netflix’s animated comedy Inside Job, which saw its second season renewal taken back.
The wave of un-renewals and discarded series orders is the second one to hit the industry in the past three years. The early months of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 brought on a similar spate of decisions that affected, among others, Netflix’s GLOW and The Society, ABC’s Stumptown and Showtime’s On Becoming a God in Central Florida. Those cancellations were driven in part by pandemic concerns — including the additional cost of testing and social distancing measures prior to vaccines becoming available — while the latest moves come as the streaming era’s spending spree hangover kicks in and media conglomerates look to eliminate red ink on their balance sheets.
The recent wave has unsurprisingly caused consternation in the creative community, with some writers calling for their union to make the corporate takebacks an issue in upcoming contract negotiations. THR has reached out to SAG-AFTRA, the Writers Guild and the Directors Guild for comment.
Additional reporting by Alex Weprin.