The CEO of newly merged Warner Bros. Discovery will meet with JK Rowling to discuss new Harry Potter content, as the no-nonsense chief issues a slew of rapid fire changes meant to cut costs and gin up revenue.
David Zaslav, 62, took over the combined company last month and has already ruffled feathers.
The entertainment giant owns the Warner Bros. film and TV studios, HBO, CNN, TBS, the Food Network, the Discovery Channel, TLC and DC Comics.
Zaslav – who makes a reported $246.6 million a year – quickly forced out top executives and axed projects he didn’t consider worthy, like the streaming service CNN+ and a superhero movie still in development, the Wall Street Journal reports.
He now plans to sit down with Rowling to discuss new Harry Potter-related content for his HBO Max streamer.
That comes despite Rowling facing mounting criticism over her view on transgender people, with HBO Max ‘canceling’ her from a Harry Potter reunion special it broadcast on New Year’s Day.
The author, who launched the franchise with her first book in 1997, only appeared in archival footage from the creation of the first movie in 2000.
Warner Brothers Discover’s new CEO David Zaslav is ruffling feathers with his plans for the conglomerate
Zaslav is said to be wooing JK Rowling to produce new Harry Potter-themed shows for his HBO Max streamer, despite the author infuriating progressives over her views on trans issues
Rowling, 56, has faced condemnation for her alleged transphobia for claiming that transgender women should be banned from some women-only spaces, and that children are being encouraged to transition without proper evidence they’re suffering from gender dysphoria.
‘War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength. The Penised Individual Who Raped You Is a Woman,’ Rowling tweeted in December, above a link to a Times story reporting that police will mark rape suspects as women if they identify as such.
Earlier this year, it was revealed that a performing arts school in England had removed Rowling’s name from one of its houses after ‘requests from students and staff.’
Any rapprochement with the billionaire British author is likely to infuriate progressive staff at HBO Max.
Netflix faced a mutiny from some of its staffers over its broadcast of comedian Dave Chappelle’s controversial show The Closer, which saw him defend Rowling over her transgender comments.
Zaslav also made waves after blasting his colleagues for making Clint Eastwood movie Cry Macho despite fears it wouldn’t turn a profit, which ultimately proved true.
On being told by underlings that Eastwood had provided Warner Bros. with multiple hits, and never turned in a movie late or over budget, he is said to have answered: ‘It’s not show friends, it’s show business.’
Ari Emanuel, who heads up talent firm Endeavor, told the Journal: ‘It’s the first time they’ve had a leader there who is challenging them and asking the right questions. When there are things he wants, he goes after them in a very aggressive manner.’
The newly installed chief is particularly focused on HBO Max, a successful offering that has added 13 million subscribers from last year for a total of 77 million paying customers.
Zaslav scrapped plans for the screaming service to spend $75 million on a movie adaptation of DC Comics superhero adventure The Wonder Heroes, deeming it a waste of money.
He plans to spend more on theatrical releases at Warner Bros. The studio put out 17 movies last year, a number that Zaslav wants to up to about 20 to 25 since theatrical films do better on HBO Max than films made specifically for the streamer.
Zaslav, a former lawyer who joined NBC in 1989, joined Discovery in 2006 and transformed it into a profitable operation by cutting costs and focusing on unscripted programming
One of his first moves was axing the streaming service CNN+, after his predecessors had sunk $300 million into its botched launch
He has nudged HBO Max away from plans to make original movies, as rivals including Netflix see shares tank amid claims they’re pumping out poor-quality shows that viewers don’t want to watch.
HBO Max has a strong reputation for exceptional TV shows, including Sex and the City and Chernobyl, and will likely continue to focus on producing such watercooler hits.
Zaslav seems to want to keep HBO Max profitable while remaking its parent company in his image.
WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar left shortly before the new chief took over, along with head of studios and networks Ann Sarnoff. Also ousted was Warner Bros. General Counsel John Rogovin, a move that upset top staff at the company, sources told the Journal.
On Wednesday, Zaslav took to CNBC to share some of his colleague Chris Licht’s plans for CNN, another one of his new properties.
Zaslav appeared to confirm the network would move away from opinion-focused primetime shows, and instead return to its roots as a breaking news broadcaster with an extremely strong reputation for covering big stories.
CNN has won plaudits for its coverage of the Ukraine war, and the network’s new bosses are believed to be trying to focus on rebuilding its reputation as one of the world’s top newsgatherers, instead of a home for cheap to produce ‘infotainment’ shows featuring soapboxing hosts and guests.
Zaslav, who is close to entertainment heavyweights Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg, is big on cross-promotion and has already floated plans to have top movie talent participate in a Discovery Channel Shark Week promotional event.
The move is consistent with the existing perception of the Brooklyn-born lawyer, who is thought to have tainted Discovery Channel’s brand when he took over in 2006 and refocused the cable channel on reality TV in order to turn a profit.