Aisle Of Wit

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It’s Not You, Sir. It’s Us.

I had the good fortune to meet some incredibly talented people when I briefly had what at the time was an idyllic living situation.  Turns out people who follow their passions are far more intriguing to even speak with, let alone hang out and watch football with, especially during the earliest days of the pandemic when every other human being you ever knew was so completely petrified that, despite geographic proximity, they were so adamantly and falsely believing that I, somehow, was an asymptomatic superspreader they not only refused every single desperate attempt to have them stop by, they refused to even ring my doorbell, lest the contamination of a world where such visited actually visited and–horrors–occasionally did not wear masks was so completely abhorrent to their very existence.  As you can tell, I’m still not fully over that degree of hurtful rejection, and I highly doubt it’s possible that anything but time will eventually resolve it.

One of these incredibly talented people is a director, who has recently won several awards at several film festivals for a gripping short called STORAGE, which you can easily google to find where it is currently being shown online and what festival it may be coming to soon.  Full disclosure, when I had a few bucks I made an extremely small investment in the fundraising for its production.  Nowhere near the level of investment of either time or money that bought some other people, one very special to me, actual producing credits.  But I did get the alert to attend a premiere in North Hollywood this past summer, and met a few of the cast members and crew at a lovely afterparty.  And having even the most modest personal stake in something that good gave me true joy, something I’ve sorely lacked of late.

What I’ve learned is that creatives driven by passion to tell stories through shortform productions which they rely upon the passions and, yes, the bank accounts of people who share their vision have a goal of being discovered by a larger studio, where they can potentially reach the holy grail that their heroes have.  As much for the chance to have a real budget to tell deeper, more complex stories.  So one of this director’s goals has been to submit his works and vet his track record for such programs as the Warner Brothers Television Workshop.

Which is why I truly felt this person’s pain when, in a rare social media nod to something other than the series of awards he’s won recently or the positive impact it’s had on his quality of life–travel, a new home, a new car and, of course, the company of other equally talented and beautiful people, he reposted this Hollywood Reporter news item yesterday, along with a nod of frustration and disgust:

Warner Bros. Discovery will be shutting down its long-running writers’ and directors’ television workshops at the end of the current 2022-23 season, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.

While they were not specifically diversity programs exclusively for participants from historically excluded backgrounds, the Warner Bros. Television Workshop was regarded as an important pipeline of opportunity for such artists looking to break into the business. The writers’ workshop had been in existence for more than 40 years, with more recent notable alumni including Akela Cooper (Luke Cage, Blumhouse’s upcoming M3GAN), Zak Schwartz (Wu-Tang: An American Saga, TNT’s Snowpiercer) and LaToya Morgan (The Walking Dead, Into the Badlands). Alumni of the directors’ workshop include Jude Weng (Only Murders in the Building, Finding ‘Ohana), Jaffar Mahmood (Reboot, Young Sheldon) and Regina King.

Now it just so happens this person falls into such a background category, and takes pride in that fact, along with a relentless pursuit to be brilliant.  This person even teaches other budding creatives at UCLA Extension, as I once did.  I envy not just the fact he has special people in his life I so deeply wish I did, but I envy far more the nuance, detail and depth of his talents that was evident for those seventeen-ish minutes on the big screen.  And I’m well aware he’s got a few other similar quality quivers in his bow.

So he lost a lot more than I did with yesterday’s news, and he was indirectly affected by the relentless disemboweling of the once-mighty Warner Brothers by CEO David Zaslav, who is even more relentless in his pursuit to deliver $3B in savings to Wall Street.  Zaslav has come under fire by many more directly impacted people, and I personally know quite a few of them.  Yesterday’s announcement that 125 positions–82 employed, 43 vacant– at Warner Brothers TV will be  eliminated was yet another reminder that, despite the already tumultuous summer where Yosemite Zas ripped through the ranks of the networks and sold off controlling interest of the CW, there’s a lot more pain ahead.  At one time, I was up for one of those vacant positions, so I suppose I should be upset as well.

But when one looks at the rare ratings update that trades are willing to publish these days, I’m sadly reminded that even those who have made their way to producing series, with several years of traction, are experiencing their own reality checks.  On the same day these layoffs occurred the results for the premieres of two of the remaining CW scripted series, ALL AMERICAN and HOMECOMING, each premiered to adult 18-49 ratings of under 0.15, and less than 500,000 viewers.  Which only makes the likelihood that new owner Nexstar will eventually eliminate buying any such series all the more imminent, and why Zaslav’s predisposition to preferring unscripted television, particularly types that have alternative revenue streams, seems to be all the more justified.   And  just by watching a ballgame,

Last night, as I was watching the Yankees’ playoff game on TBS–unscripted television at its best, I might add–the key promo positions that traditionally were reserved for upcoming TBS comedies or TNT dramas–many produced by Warner Brothers–were occupied by an upcoming competition show on the Food Network, one of the members of the Discovery family that Zaslav brought in this merger, and one of the crown jewels of the Scripps networks which he aggressively pursued several years earlier.  Even in the earliest days of the internet, Food Network viewers were far more likely to watch content on a second screen simultaneously than almost every other network capable of being measured both linearally and online.  They regularly sold advertisers on these opportunties for enhanced engagement  because–hey, who doesn’t need to pay attention to follow recipes?  Which may explain why the woman who headed up that network’s group, and the gentleman who headed up their sales operation, are still working at WBD this morning.

For people like my talented acquaitance, they may still be other outlets for them to explore, perhaps not with the cache of the Warner Brothers shield.  Amazon is aggressively buying shorts and developing spaces with Prime Video to support such content, and would be well served to pick up the pieces of the WBTV workshop.  With their business model, traditional ratings are less relevant, and they’ve got more than enough ready cash to support it.  There’s plenty of others just like him, some of whom have friends and investors just as impressive as his team, that would be welcome additions to such a portfolio, and might be able to produce a few projects that could eventually offset the likely losses that RINGS OF FIRE is creating (Notice we haven’t seen a damn thing lately about how that’s doing??)

This person’s favorite sports teams reside in Philadelphia so, thankfully for him, he probably won’t be as exposed to the reminders of how different WBD is from WB as I saw yesterday, as his beloved Phillies will be trying to go 2-up on the Braves this afternoon on FOX. With my team out of it, and for as much as I despise the Braves, I’m rooting extra hard for them today, because it seems like we both need some diversion from the frustration and the reality of where a once-prolific and supportive studio has gone, and where it’s likely to head.   But in a world where the popularity of allegedly mainstream shows are beginning to more closely resemble the relative levels of independent films, much as I’d love to share her contempt for Yosemite Zas, I have to gently, but firmly, come out on the side of being fully supportive and respect of his moves. Even if we’re both indirectly being impacted by them.  All Zaslav is doing is reacting to actual numbers.  I can’t fault him one iota for that.

I’m constantly reminded that in a world as fractionalized and as divided as the one we’re in now, we have to somehow find solace in knowing that we have some people in our lives who respect us, support us, admire us, and even love us first and foremost.  Getting acknowledged by film festivals is a pretty good indication of that.   Earning a few bucks to live comfortably also is.  I keep hoping against hope Mr. Zaslav might somehow find a way to bring my brain into his world in order to do that, but the realities of numbers are simply too significant for me to have any more than a pious, fleeting hope at this point.

Sir, at least you and your impeccably talented and attractive team have your honors and each other.  You cannot possibly fathom how much I wish I was you today.

Until next time…