fother HBO Max executives say the streaming service has few people of color to oversee its diverse programming, while Warner Bros. Discovery continues the ongoing realignment of the company.
The platform has reportedly laid off nearly 70 people this month. That includes the entire teams overseeing unscripted, kids and family and international content, according to two former HBO Max execs who asked not to be named.
Those three divisions, which are responsible for sourcing shows from production companies and creators and working closely with them during production, are now completely gone.
A former employee says as many as 13 people of color who were previously responsible for developing shows such as The Gordita Chronicles and the Spanish-language docuseries Menudo: Forever Young have been released, likely affecting the types of shows and movies that will be green-lighted for the future. Among the layoffs are Jen Kim, an Asian woman who was the senior vice president of the international team, and Kaela Barnes, a black woman who worked under Kim.
“I don’t think anyone knows how white the staff are,” a former executive told The Daily Beast.
Former HBO Max employees say there are hardly any non-white people in the higher ranks of content, with one citing Joey Chavez, an executive vice president of drama, as one of the few people of color left. Since HBO Max and the original HBO channel operate somewhat independently, a former director admitted that “there may be one black woman on the HBO side. Could be.”
The layoffs have “reinforced the lack of diversity at HBO,” another former director told The Daily Beast. “HBO is the most homogeneous part of this umbrella. Instead of trying to figure out how some of the [Max] executives to HBO, they just made this sweeping cut across three divisions: kids, family, and international. A lot of black and brown people lost their jobs.”
Since parent company Warner Bros. merged with Discovery earlier this year, Warner employees struggle with the changing values of the newly founded company. Discovery CEO David Zaslav was accused of helping Warner crawl out of a $50 billion hole. He came in like a wrecking ball, tearing up CNN’s $300 million streaming service CNN+ and vowing to pull the Warner news channel out of “advocacy” journalism.
There have been more changes in recent weeks.
Earlier this month it was announced that batgirl, the $90 million film slated for HBO Max starring Afro-Latina actress Leslie Grace, was to be shelved entirely in favor of a tax write-off. Over the weekend, CNN media correspondent and host Brian Stelter, a frequent target of right-wing criticism, was fired from the network.
Former Warner employees believe that these changes are as much about business as they are about reshaping the ideological perception of Warner property. It all points to the same goal, they say: a rejection of left-wing or very diverse content in favor of more homogeneous, Central America-friendly fare. The lack of diversity in staff content could only make that goal easier.
“HBO is the most homogeneous part of this umbrella. Instead of trying to figure out how some of the [Max] executives to HBO, they just made this sweeping cut across three divisions: kids, family, and international. Many black and brown people lost their jobs.”
In a statement to The Daily Beast, HBO highlighted shows like Euphoria, Rap Sh!t, A Black Lady Sketch Show and Los Espookysall of which are led by different characters.
“HBO and HBO Max have always and will continue to demonstrate a commitment to diverse programs and storytellers,” the company said.
An internal chart comparing the audiences of Discovery+ and HBO Max showed a significant demographic difference between the two streamers. While HBO Max is popular with diverse groups, singles and hybrid car drivers, Discovery+ is popular with white, married people who drive SUVs, minivans and “travel buses.” HBO Max viewers are on TikTok and Instagram, while Discovery+ viewers use social media platforms Facebook and Twitter, with the added caveat, “if any.” HBO Max viewers do not have children. Discovery+ viewers are either “empty nesters” or have grandchildren. Discovery may be trying to pull HBO into its orbit as it focuses on what it does best.
HBO Max’s reality offerings were an obvious sticking point for the new bosses. Where Discovery properties like TLC and HGTV send camera crews to film what they can find, HBO Max’s offerings are more carefully curated. They’re sometimes backed by stars like Selena Gomez or Steph Curry, who have the power to command big salaries, and they’re noticeably slimmer, with smoother edits and more complicated camera settings adding to their budget.
A former executive describes Discovery+ as a “more general audience platform that doesn’t have the specificity HBO Max is geared to. I think Discovery is just a very ‘all’ audience, [they] doesn’t want to make things that are political, current, alienate Central America — more Chip and Joanna,” they said, referring to the home renovation show Fixer Upper: Welcome home hosted by Chip and Joanna Gaines.
“If David Zaslav had his wish, he would program Chip and Joanna all day,” the director said. “There was just a huge, ‘We don’t need you. You don’t offer the things we focus on.’”
The change in perspective could also partly explain why so many titles have disappeared from HBO Max’s platform lately. Our sources agree that most of the moves are money related. The company can claim a tax break on the costs associated with certain shows, as long as it promises to stop benefiting from them, meaning they will be discontinued altogether.
“They cancel out a perspective that I don’t think exists when you watch Discovery branded shows,” said a former employee.
Speaking about the company’s plans to combine HBO Max and Discovery+ into one massive streaming service in the near future, the fired executive said, “Don’t be surprised if the platform is rebranded.”
Overall, there’s a sense that HBO Max’s executives of color were just another victim in the company’s quest to get itself out of debt, the quality of the content be damned.
“In terms of people seeing themselves reflected, be it ethnic or LGBTQ, if you have people who are diverse, the lens through which they evaluate [content] factors in things that I think my white colleagues just don’t think about,” said a former executive.
“It’s deep,” said another. “What are they going to do with this disproportionate amount of people of color who were let go? They have to replace them in some way. Or do they not care? That’s what we’ve been told, they just don’t care.”