Well, it certainly has been an eventful couple of days for good old HBO and Warner Bros., hasn’t it? Where to begin, really?
David Zaslav, the CEO of the newly formed Warner Bros. Discovery, (WBD) - Get Warner Bros. Discovery Inc. Report can’t seem to stop making headlines lately, and he also can’t seem to stop making fans mad.
After the $43 billion merger between the companies was finalized, he pledged to find $3 billion worth of savings, and in recent days that’s meant the axing of TV shows both critically acclaimed (like “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee”) and cultishly liked, such as the Adult Swim favorite “Joe Pera Talks With You,” and the coming-of-age comedy “‘Gordita Chronicles.”
Then Zaslav announced that the DC Comics-based “Batgirl,” wouldn’t be released, as it reportedly tested badly in front of an audience, so a tax write-off was deemed cheaper. That really surprised people.
In a recent earnings call, Zaslav and JB Perrette, CEO and president of global streaming and games for Warner Bros. Discovery, laid out their plans for HBO Max, which will officially combine next summer into one service.
But the pair’s approach to the service’s TV shows, and the content they chose to highlight (and how they chose to highlight it) has raised quite a few eyebrows across social media.
What In The Heck Is The ‘90 Day Fiancé’ Universe?
HBO Max might get a new name that incorporates the Discover brand, and a free, advertiser tier isn’t completely out of the question.
As part of its pitch to investors, Zaslav and Perrette touted the many well-known brands that are a part of the company's corporate portfolio.
But many people on Twitter couldn't help but notice when DC Comics' comics various superheroes (i.e. Batman and some other people), "Game of Thrones" and the ever-beleaguered "Harry Potter" franchise were joined by something termed...."the 90 Day Fiancé universe." Which apparently included the 18 (!) different spin-off series from 90 Day Fiancé. Will the various characters from across the 90 Day Fiancé universe up to fight Thanos?
(Also, in terms of "Iconic Series and Characters," sure, yes "Sex and the City" is a very popular show. So is "Friends." So is "The Property Brothers." If these shows make you happy, then that's great. You know what else is a popular show? A little program that HBO owns calls "The Sopranos," which is generally regarded as one of the very best shows to ever air on television. While a corporate investment call isn't really the place to discuss the finer points of The Golden Age of Television, this was just a bit much. Okay, snob rant over.)
There's also the matter that the presentation included the sort of marketing language that everyday people tend to instinctively recoil from.
In particular, the HBO brand was described as having a "male skew" that likes to "lean in," while Discovery+ has a "female skew" that prefers to "lean back." This sort of language struck many as weirdly sexist, unnecessarily gendered and just kinda silly.
(I mean, hear me out. It's entirely possible that some women might possibly enjoy HBO programming and some dudes might enjoy the company of Discovery star Guy Fieri. Just saying.)
Twitter Has A Lot To Say About This
So now HBO Max has established there are two genders: Batman and "90-Day Fiancé." Got that?
But fueling all these jokes is a real sense of concern.
HBO Max is a favorite of hard core film buffs because of its deep library of classic films, and critics and cool cats have long loved the HBO brand for its commitment to visionary entertainment and groundbreaking television. Heck, Vulture recently named it the Best Streaming Service, over the more popular Netflix (NFLX) - Get Netflix Inc. Report and Disney+ (DIS) - Get The Walt Disney Company Report.
HBO is the network that gave us “The Sopranos,” “The Wire,” “Insecure” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and classic stand-up specials from George Carlin, Chris Rock and many more. But there is a real panic amongst fans that in an attempt to chase the widest possible audience, Zaslav will lose sight of what makes HBO, well, HBO. It's a machine built to win Emmys. Prestige is what it does.
To be fair, perhaps this fear is unfounded, and as long as HBO continues to give us great Emmy-winning shows like “Barry,” “Hacks,” “Succession” and other programs that just feel like classic HBO shows, everything will be fine. (Your mileage may vary on “Euphoria.” That one’s pretty divisive.)
After all, in the past two years that we’ve had HBO Max, it’s been a bit weird seeing “Deadwood” on the same streaming platform as “Friends” and Selena Gomez’ cooking show, but it’s not like the world ended. HBO kept making great shows, and everything was fine. Plus, we can all enjoy some light, frivolous entertainment, and “FBoy Island” makes the world a better place.
But that worry that Zaslav and the Discovery people will fix that which does not need to be fixed is palpable across social media, and it's not going to abate anytime soon.
Also, people are still mad about the “Batgirl’ thing.
It’s important to note the Leslie Grace-starring film would have been the rare superhero film with a woman of color as the lead, and the rare film directed by Muslim people (Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah) and it would have included a transgender actor, Ivory Aquino, as well as beloved on the internet actors Michael Keaton and Brendan Frasier. (The Protect Brendan Frasier crowd is not to be underestimated.) So yeah, Twitter isn’t going to let this go for quite a while.
So the future of HBO Max is, well, kinda unclear at the moment. But at least we have jokes.