HBO/HBO Max Layoffs Hit; Amy Gravitt & Sarah Aubrey Get New Duties – Deadline

The dreaded post-merger Warner Bros Discovery layoffs have reached the programming operation overseen by HBO and HBO Max Chief Content Officer Casey Bloys.

Overall, 14% of staff – about 70 people – are being laid off Monday, the vast majority of them on the Max side. That includes in Max Non-Fiction Originals, International, Acquisitions, Casting and previously reported Live-Action Family Originals, which are all being either scaled back significantly or essentially eliminated, leading to the departure of the bulk of the staff, led by Jennifer O’Connell EVP, Non-Fiction & Live-Action Family Originals for HBO Max; Jennifer Kim, SVP, International Originals for HBO Max; Michael Quigley, EVP of Content Acquisitions at HBO Max; and Linda Lowy, EVP Casting for WarnerMedia’s HBO Max, TNT, TBS and truTV.

I hear the layoffs are being done via video conferences this morning. The cuts are part of WBD leadership’s pledge to find at least $3 billion in savings.

(L-R) Amy Gravitt and Sarah Aubrey
Courtesy of Amy Gravitt/WarnerMedia

Despite incessant rumors about HBO Max’s scripted team, its leadership under Bloys remains virtually intact — albeit with some responsibility changes — with all executives who have reported to Bloys staying put and continuing to do so (except for O’Connell, who had a dual unscripted /scripted role).

HBO’s longtime head of comedy, EVP Programming Amy Gravittis also taking oversight of original comedy for HBO Max as the two groups are being combined.

The move was foreshadowed a few weeks ago when word got out that Gravitt had started taking Max comedy pitches. Suzanna Makkoswho had been running comedy for HBO Max, most recently EVP Original Comedy and Animation for HBO Max and Adult Swim, will stay on, reporting to Gravitt.

Makkos had been reporting to HBO Max’s Head of Original Content Sarah Aubrey, who also is staying on. The veteran development executive, who comes from an extensive drama background, will continue to oversee Max Original dramas and will add a new international programming role, working with the WBD International team, led by Gerhard Zeiler, to get the programming groups internationally to be coordinated country by country.

I hear the rationale behind merging HBO and Max’s comedy departments is that there is more overlap in comedy between the two brands than there is in drama. That is exemplified by Max comedies like Hacks and of course Sex and the City follow-up And Just Like That…that would fit fine on HBO proper.


John Cena in “Peacemaker”

The divergence is bigger in drama. where Max has been going for broader, pop culture content. Aubrey’s focus going forward will be on big, largely IP-based tentpoles. (Joey Chavez remains as EVP Programming and lead for Max Originals drama, reporting to Aubrey.) That includes high-profile DC series The Peacemaker and the upcoming The Penguin and Green Lantern, which are all moving along, as well as another upcoming series, dunewhich is now casting, and an It series adaptation, which is in fast-track development. In addition to The Peacemaker, Max has had success with dramas based on WB series IP including Pretty Little Liars and Gossip Girl.

Over the past month, there have also been rampant rumors that Max’s scripted slate is getting gutted, with scores of shows canceled and development reevaluated or even slashed. I hear a number of third-party projects in development have been released recently but there are no major changes planned for the in-house/Warner Bros. TV-produced scripted slate outside the recently announced kids and family programming pullout.

WBD’s commitment to Max’s original programming was stressed recently by WBD CEO David Zaslav during the company’s quarterly earnings call where he also confirmed that Bloys’ team is staying put.

“Quality is what matters. Quality is what Casey and that team is delivering. It’s the best team in the business. We’re doubling down on that HBO team,” Zaslav said. “They’re all committed under contract and we’re going to spend dramatically more this year and next year than we spent last year in the year before.”

He later added, “The majority of the people on Casey’s team have been locked up.”

The cuts of Max Original reality, International, Acquisitions and Casting are not surprising. With the pending merger of HBO Max and non-fiction Discovery+ into one platform, HBO Max had already paused new development of unscripted series. O’Connell’s other area at HBO Max and Live-Action Family Originals also recently was put on hold.

Going forward, existing Max unscripted series will continue or premiere as planned and, if they are performing well, will stay on. There will just be no new development in light of the large volume of non-fiction fare that will come from Discovery+ when the two services are merged next summer.

Selena + Chef

HBO Max’s “Selena + Chef”

HBO Max’s reality slate includes shows such as Selena + Chef, which has been renewed for a fourth season; FBoy Island, which is airing its second season; and Legendary, which recently premiered its third season. The move will be a blow for the unscripted community as HBO Max was known to pay between $1.5 million-$2 million per episode of some of its unscripted shows, well above Discovery’s usual tariffs, which generally go as high as around $500,000 per hour.

The elimination of the HBO Max casting department syncs up the streamer with HBO proper, which has never had an in-house casting department and instead has been using casting directors on individual shows.

The situation is similar to the phasing out of Max’s international group. The HBO’s drama and comedy departments had been forging their own co-productions on series like I May Destroy You and Years and Yearssomething that would likely be duplicated on the Max side.

The downsizing of HBO/Max acquisition team, which has been making library deals, comes amid a collapse of the Pay 1 window in the new age of vertically integrated movie studios largely supplying their streaming platforms, and a dwindling of third-party series library sales for the same reason. The last big Pay 1 pact for HBO/Max, a 10-year agreement with 20th Century, which was recently restructured to include 20th Century and Searchlight movies being shared with Disney’s Disney+ and Hulu, is set to expire with the new Avatar movie in 2023. On the TV side, South Park is a rare non-Warner Bros. TV-produced series whose library was snatched by HBO Max; it is slated to move to its corporate streamer, Paramount+, in 2025.

The moves further dismantle the Max structure as a stand-alone entity with its own infrastructure built under Kevin Reilly. The process started soon after HBO’s Bloys added Max’s content operation to his purview in 2020 with the shutting down of Warner Max, a movie label launched by the previous regime to supply mid-budget films exclusively for the streamer.

At HBO, isolated layoffs are expected in programming, production and BA.

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