Bob Greenblatt Says WarnerMedia Is in "An Arms Race" to Keep J.J. Abrams

Bob Greenblatt -Publicity-H 2016
Art Streiber/NBC

The entertainment chair, appearing onstage with Laura Dern, also talked about the company's streaming platform and increasing diversity in Hollywood.

WarnerMedia Entertainment Chair Bob Greenblatt said the company is in "an arms race” to retain talent as it nears a deal to hang on to J.J. Abrams' Bad Robot for nearly $500 million.

Greenblatt addressed the reports of Abrams' deal during an appearance at Cannes Lions, as WarnerMedia prepares to enter the crowded streaming market against Netflix, Amazon and the coming Disney+ and Apple TV.

“Just because you increase the volume [of shows], you can't increase the number of really talented people in the world that can produce these shows, so when they come along as a J.J. Abrams does once in every generation, you want to hold on to them,” he said. “We hope to keep him in the family.”

“There's a very competitive situation out there because the other great companies and streaming services also would like to have him,” he said, without confirming the deal. He said Amazon and Netflix's big production deals have upped the ante for price, but that producers that can make quality and volume “are worth it.”

Greenblatt said WarnerMedia's upcoming streaming platform, expected to debut in the first quarter of 2020, will enter a competitive environment and expressed some skepticism about the continual growth of the business. He said Warner property HBO has been a quality over quantity proposition so far and ordering more shows may be detrimental over time.

“Volume is both a good thing and a bad thing. It allows us to do so much more and at the same time requires us to probably put things into production faster than we should,” he said. “But we are in a world where it seems like it is insatiable, you cannot get enough, and I think ultimately it's a danger if we keep on going at that pace.… I don't know if it is good in the long run for our business.”

Greenblatt, speaking on stage with Laura Dern, also addressed increasing diversity in Hollywood and said the #MeToo movement has been a boon for the business. “In terms of how much volume you now have to make for all of these services, you couldn't get by in a continued male-dominant business. It makes sense that all of this has come together at the same time with the explosion in volume and women and diversity in front of and behind the camera,” he said. “It's a huge agenda for us, we're committed to it on the movie front, on the television front.”

Both Greenblatt and Dern said that the hope is that shows like the Nicole Kidman- and Reese Witherspoon-produced Big Little Lies are recognized as quality TV instead of “a female project” in the future.

Dern addressed the shift in the business since the #MeToo movement, quoting co-star Meryl Streep. "It never occurred to me that I would get to be part of the storytelling outside of being cast by someone and I could forge my way instead of waiting for the phone to ring,'” she quoted the Oscar winner. “That was so extraordinary to me, considering her career.”

Both hinted that they would be up for creating another season of the hit show. “We'll do whatever you guys want to do,” Greenblatt added.