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David Zaslav: WBD Turning Art Into Tax Write-Offs "Took Real Courage"

Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav on SAG-AFTRA and how it "took real courage" to turn a number of shows and films into tax write-offs.

Nasim Pedrad's Chad was one of those shows that began both finding its audience and finding the appreciation of critics by the time it ended its first season run on TBS. Debuting in April 2021, the touching comedy would get a green light for a second season a month later. With the second season filmed & ready to go, July 11, 2022, was locked in for the Season 2 premiere. And then, the series was canceled. Now, you might be thinking that canceling a series that's already filmed & in the can – with a premiere date already set – would be an odd move. but with Chad, we had a series that was canceled only hours before it was supposed to hit screens – hours. But according to Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) CEO David Zaslav, that was a move that "took real courage" – as were all of the moves over the past two years that saw finished films & series being shelved for tax write-off purposes as Zaslav (and others) looked to course-correct some really bad decision-making when it comes to streaming.

David Zaslav
LOS ANGELES – JUN 12: David Zaslav at The Flash Premiere at the Ovation Hollywood Courtyard on June 12, 2023 in Los Angeles, CA ( Hutchins/David Zaslav)

"The accounting piece is really a misnomer. If we produce a show, a $100-million movie…We've spent the $100 million dollars and if we don't release it. It's gone. We don't have any real benefit from it," Zaslav argued, defending the practice to interviewer Andrew Ross Sorkin during a Q&A session at The New York Times' DealBook conference. "The question is, should we take certain of these movies and open them in the theater and spend another $30 or $40 million to promote them? And Warner Brothers team and HBO made a number of decisions. They were hard. But when I look at the health of our company today, we needed to make those decisions. And it took real courage."

davd zaslav
Image: Los Angeles, California – September 24, 2023: SAG-AFTRA Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists located at 5757 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles ( Cicchetti)

Zaslav: SAG-AFTRA "Right About Almost Everything," Too: As SAG-AFTRA members continue voting this week to potentially ratify the union's new three-year deal with the studios & streamers, David Zaslav doubled down on his slightly passive-aggressive comments from earlier this month where he admitted that the writers were "right about almost everything" during a profile/interview in The New York Times. Zaslav also added, "So what if we overpay? I've never regretted overpaying for great talent or a great asset," rubbing some folks the wrong way. Asked by Sorkin about his compensation as WBD CEO being a focal point of the union's attacks against the studios & streamers, Zaslav shifted to discussing what the focus was of the studio bigwigs who were actively engaged in the WGA & SAG-AFTRA negotiations.

"My focus was we need to settle this strike. This is really hurting people. Every day that we were on strike, that people weren't working, was a bad day," Zaslav explained – adding, "I did fight, and [Disney's] Bob Iger. There was a bunch of us" looking to bring the strikes to an end. As for that "right about almost everything" quote, Zaslav added that it would also apply to much of what SAG-AFTRA was looking for in its negotiations, too. "I believe what I said. When I spoke to Fran [Drescher] and Duncan [Crabtree-Ireland] before, I said, 'I agree with a lot of what you're saying,'" Zaslav added.

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Ray FlookAbout Ray Flook

Serving as Television Editor since 2018, Ray began five years earlier as a contributing writer/photographer before being brought onto the core BC team in 2017.
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