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The Writers Guild of America picket line outside the Warner Bros. Discovery upfront Wednesday morning may have been a block away and across the street (owing to construction at Penn Station), but it was felt inside the Theater at Madison Square Garden, where WBD executives took to the stage in a talent-free presentation.
“What you’re about to see is not exactly the show we expected to do today,” WBD ad sales chief Jon Steinlauf said to open the show. “We made the decision to only have executives on stage out of respect for our talent, and the WGA.”
Instead, Steinlauf, EVP of Advertising Sales and Inclusive Solutions, Sheereen Russell; CNN CEO Chris Licht; WBD Sports chief Luis Silberwasser; US networks content chief Kathleen Finch; streaming and games head JB Perrette; HBO and Max CEO Casey Bloys; and chief revenue officer Bruce Campbell addressed a tired crowd of media buyers, with clips and sizzle reels to break up the action. WBD CEO David Zaslav was in attendance (he was standing alone and scanning the crowd from one of the front rows), but it was top deputies that led the pitch.
The only talent appearances were via video, where CNN’s Anderson Cooper introduced Kaitlan Collins as the channel’s 9 p.m. host, and with the Inside the NBA team joking around from their set.
There was programming news, including a reboot of the faux reality series The Joe Schmo Show, a new travel series starring Conan O’Brien, Jason Momoa pulling Shark Week host duties and some new unscripted fare starring Robert Downey Jr. and Selena Gomez, among others. And there was advertising news, with a WBD Stream advertising product suite, and new Max ad offerings including takeovers and pause ads.
But the strike and its impact was apparent during the presentation, with minimal news around scripted programming (although there was a debut date for the new season of And Just Like That…).
“First, let me just start by saying I am hopeful that a fair resolution is found soon with the writers, that would of course return talent to this stage, and let’s be honest, making this a far more entertaining show,” HBO and Max chief Casey Bloys told the crowd. “Until then you’re kind of stuck with me and my clips.”
In a presentation filled with sizzle reels that played off the theme of “Dreams” (shots of classic films and TV shows played as “Dream Cool,” “Dream Big” and “Dream Bold” flashed across the screens in the theater), it was an upfront presentation that was itself dreaming of a future without a writers strike, and with a fully-scaled streaming service.
HBO Max will give way to Max next week, the strike is still TBD.
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