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Channing Dungey’s Warner Bros. Television Group has been the hardest hit during Tuesday’s expected round of layoffs as part of Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav’s efforts to find $3 billion in post-merger cost savings.
Sources say Dungey’s division — which includes scripted, unscripted and animation — has reduced its workforce by 26 percent. Included in the tally are 82 employees (19 percent) who were laid off Tuesday as well as 43 vacant positions (7 percent). All told, 125 positions have been eliminated across business affairs, production and all forms of creative at the studio. Sources note that while some longtime employees were impacted Tuesday, most of the positions eliminated were considered to be low- to mid-level staffers.
Layoffs at other divisions were also expected Tuesday, though sources stress that Dungey’s studio was the most severely impacted. Additional rounds of layoffs impacting other divisions at WBD are expected in the coming weeks and months; the Warner Bros. film group will likely come last to allow its new executive regime time to acclimate.
“Some of our treasured colleagues will be leaving the company because of restructuring and realignment within our group. This was strictly a business decision, made as thoughtfully and compassionately as possible by studio leadership,” said Warner Bros. TV Group chairman Dungey, who took over the studio from Peter Roth at the start of 2021, in a memo to staff. (Read that in full, below.)
The layoffs are spread evenly between the unscripted, animation and scripted divisions; Dungey held a series of meetings with unscripted boss Mike Darnell, animation topper Sam Register and scripted head Brett Paul as the quartet looked to right-size all three units. The layoffs started with the elimination of all open positions and proceeded from there. Sources note that Brooke Karzen’s decision Monday to step down from her role atop Warner Horizon Unscripted Television also produced some cost savings as the longtime creative behind the Bachelor franchise was the most senior executive to leave. Karzen’s move had been in the works for some time, and her departure had nothing to do with layoffs but rather her desire to make a change after two decades with Warners.
The biggest impact of Tuesday’s layoffs at WBTVG is the shuttering of digital venture Stage 13 and the conclusion of the Warner Bros. Television Workshop for writers and directors. Stage 13, the division founded in 2017 to create digital shortform programming, no longer made fiscal sense as that genre of programming never took off as expected. Stage 13 projects that are currently in development will be folded in under Brett Paul’s scripted division, and its diversity efforts will also be absorbed by the scripted studio. Warners, it’s worth noting, remains committed to discovering new and diverse voices and telling authentic stories through preexisting mandates in the scripted side, where the studio counts overall deals with the likes of Lena Waithe, Ava DuVernay and Mindy Kaling. The WBTV Workshop, meanwhile, will wrap with its current 2022-23 season class as the studio plans to remain committed to finding and nurturing emerging talent within its current structure of teams.
On the unscripted front, Darnell will continue to oversee Warner Horizon, Telepictures and Shed Media, reporting to Dungey. Warners will continue its unscripted reorganization that started in 2020 when physical production, business affairs and finance were consolidated to serve all three labels. As part of Tuesday’s layoffs, creative development and programming units will be further combined to serve both Warner Horizon and Telepictures. Executives who oversee creative development and programming will now do so for both labels as the studio changes how it works in the so-called back of the house. The unscripted team, via Shed Media, will also work more closely with other domestic and international teams within the larger Warner Bros. Discovery to create content for internal networks and platforms.
Bridgette Theriault and Dan Sacks will now lead Warner Horizon following Karzen’s departure. David McGuire remains atop Telepictures, and Lisa Shannon and Dan Peirson will continue to run Shed Media. The consolidation affects execs reporting to them.
Register’s animation unit will similarly be streamlined. Register already oversees Warner Bros. Animation, Cartoon Network Studios and Hanna-Barbera Studios Europe and has cross-studio teams in place to oversee current programming, casting, legal/business affairs and artist relations for all three. The same will now be true for the development and production units for Warner Bros. Animation and Cartoon Network Studios. Hanna-Barbera Studios Europe will remain as is, given its localized mandates.
The WBTVG layoffs follow a similar round of cutbacks at Casey Bloys’ HBO/HBO Max in August that saw an estimated 70 staffers let go as part of a larger restructuring.
All facets of the merged Warner Bros. Discovery are being examined as Zaslav looks to save billions in staff redundancies and other areas. Other departments, like ad sales, are also rumored to be looking to cut costs by 20 percent to 30 percent through a combination of layoffs, travel and expense savings and supplier cuts.
HBO Max and Discovery+ will be merged into one service next year. Executives are currently debating a new name for the service, as sources say much of the discussion is about whether the HBO name will remain part of it or if a more broad name for the service would work better.
Here’s Dungey’s memo to staff:
Today I write to you with sad news and a heavy heart. As many of you have already learned, some of our treasured colleagues will be leaving the company because of restructuring and realignment within our group. This was strictly a business decision, made as thoughtfully and compassionately as possible by studio leadership. But understanding that doesn’t make this moment any easier. These colleagues are more than just people with whom we’ve worked, they are part of our work family. We spend more time together than we do with most other people in our lives. Because of that, this loss is painful and difficult. For those impacted by the changes, I want you to know how grateful I am for your contributions – in some cases, spanning decades – and how deeply sorry I am.
There are a few changes happening within WBTVG that I would like to make specific note of here:
As part of the strategic realignment on the unscripted side, run by Mike Darnell, president, Warner Bros. Unscripted Television, we are making some changes aimed at finding synergies within the group, which includes Warner Horizon Unscripted Television, Telepictures, and Shed Media.
As you may have read yesterday, Brooke Karzen, head of Warner Horizon Unscripted Television, informed us in the last few weeks that she would like to try something new with her career after a highly successful 22-year run at the company. Brooke has been synonymous with The Bachelor brand for more than 20 years, overseeing the original show and developing The Bachelorette, Bachelor in Paradise, and many other extensions that have propelled The Bachelor into a global hit franchise. Her other successes include Emmy winner The Voice, Ellen’s Game of Games, and the Friends and Harry Potter reunion specials, to name just a few. Please join me in saluting Brooke for her tremendous accomplishments and wishing her the best in the future.
As a result of Brooke’s departure, Bridgette Theriault and Dan Sacks will now be leading Warner Horizon. We are combining some creative development and programming roles to work across both Warner Horizon and Telepictures, with David McGuire continuing to lead Telepictures. Lisa Shannon and Dan Peirson will continue to run Shed Media.
Working across all three unscripted divisions, Kevin Fortson continues to lead all aspects of physical production (including budgeting, scheduling, staffing, and more), and Matt Matzkin maintains oversight of all business affairs, legal, and finance for unscripted series.
In Animation, run by Sam Register, president, Warner Bros. Animation and Cartoon Network Studios, we are implementing a new streamlined structure in which the development and main production teams will now work across both Warner Bros. Animation and Cartoon Network Studios. The kids and family series development team will be led by Audrey Diehl, adult animation development will be led by Peter Girardi, and animated longform series development will be led by Sammy Perlmutter, with Bobbie Page leading main production. This is an extension of the cross-studio teams that have already been in place for current programming, casting, legal and business affairs, and artist relations. Ed Adams will continue as executive vice president and general manager.
On the scripted side, run by Brett Paul, president, Warner Bros. Television, our senior creative leadership team remains in place. Clancy Collins White continues to head up development, with Vicki Dummer as head of current programming. Adam Glick continues to serve as head of business affairs, Sue Palladino as head of production, and Mele Nagler as head of casting.
We will be closing Stage 13, which was founded in 2017 under the former Warner Bros. Digital Networks division as a studio for original digital shortform programming and has produced past series such as Special and It’s Bruno! for Netflix, Two Sentence Horror Stories for The CW/Netflix, and more. WBTV has already been supervising Stage 13 development and programming since 2020. Any existing Stage 13 projects in development will be absorbed within WBTV, which continues to be committed to finding new voices and providing opportunities for its richly diverse creative collaborators to tell authentic stories. I want to thank Diana Mogollón for her passionate leadership of Stage 13 and for the groundbreaking series that she and her team produced.
Also, following the conclusion of the current 2022–23 edition of the Warner Bros. Writers’ Workshop in April, we will be closing the Warner Bros. Television Workshop program, which includes both the Writers’ Workshop and the Directors’ Workshop. Both workshops have been instrumental in training the next generation of creative talent in the industry. While we will no longer have these formalized programs in place, we remain committed to developing and mentoring emerging talent and preparing them for careers in television.
As of this writing, all the impact conversations for WBTVG are complete. Out of respect to our colleagues, we will not be distributing a list of those impacted. Your direct managers will provide you with information about roles changing within specific groups. Your P&C partner will be available as well to address any questions or concerns. During this period of transition, please support each other, and be gentle with one another.
These are challenging times in the world at large, and a tumultuous time in our industry. For this kind of change to hit so close to home is incredibly difficult. But my hope is that these changes, made with an eye to a more focused business strategy, will strengthen and stabilize our company, maintain our great creative output, and better position us for continued future success.
Yet today we are losing members of our work family that we love, whose hard work has helped make our success possible, and for that I am truly sorry. I want everyone who is leaving to know that your contributions mattered, and the shows that you helped bring to life will always be part of the Warner Bros. Television Group legacy. Thank you for being part of our story.
With the deepest gratitude,
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