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One day after he was announced as the new head of content of a merged Time Warner and AT&T, christened WarnerMedia, John Stankey said that he believes that TBS handled the controversy over Full Frontal host Samantha Bee’s use of the word “c—” to describe Ivanka Trump “very well.”
When asked specifically in a New York Times interview published Thursday about how TBS, now a WarnerMedia brand, handled the outcry over Bee’s use of the slur in early June, Stankey said, “I think they handled it very well. At the end of the day, we’re going to be just fine. And rather than dwell on what might be, I think the important thing to do is watch how we handle those things when the eventual events occur. And they will occur, and we’re well aware that we need to be savvy about how we do that.”
Stankey’s response came after a question about the creative freedom the former AT&T executive would give to occasionally controversial creators who will operate under the purview of the new company, including Bee and HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher host, Bill Maher.
Stankey responded that he didn’t “believe that AT&T — the historical AT&T — by its nature brings much capability or intellectual property to do [the handling of creative freedom] better” than creatives at Time Warner did. He added that the company would “probably not” have a different attitude or approach to giving creatives control over their own content.
When asked whether he would change anything about the way that CNN operates in the context of President Donald Trump’s frequent criticisms of the network, Stankey responded, “The folks at CNN will continue to do what they do without my involvement or intervention.” The exec added that he had already met with CNN chief Jeff Zucker, who recently renewed his contract through 2020, to learn more about the media and the news cycle.
NYT reporter Edmund Lee also pressed Stankey on whether he would funnel more resources toward HBO to compete with big-spender streamers like Netflix and Hulu. Stankey said that the company wants to “drive more customer engagement” through technology and content and that, if investment helps accomplish that, he would follow through.
On Thursday, AT&T announced that, as it closes its deal with Time Warner, the new company will be renamed WarnerMedia and former Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes, as well as former Turner CEO John Martin, will exit. WarnerMedia will encompass Turner, CNN and HBO, and its head, Stankey, will report to AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson.
HBO CEO Richard Plepler, Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara, president of CNN worldwide Jeff Zucker, Turner president David Levy, Turner international president Gerhard Zeiler and Jim Meza, an AT&T exec who worked on the merger and is now joining WarnerMedia, will all report to Stankey, according to the announcement.
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