If you’re a TV fan (and if you’re here, you probably are to some degree) and you haven’t been living under a rock, you know that HBOMax was bought by Discovery and quickly torpedoed all their cartoons and pulled a lot of their in-progress. On top of that, they removed a lot of kids content.
But the whole story is a little more perplexing and confusing, because HBOMax… Isn’t HBO.
What Makes HBO Max?
There are a lot of moving parts in this, and honestly if you come out of this thinking “All TV corporations are a shell game to hide money” you would not be wrong.
AT&T owns WarnerMedia as a Baby Bell. Back in 2018, WarnerMedia wanted a streaming service to compete with Disney, and they wanted it in a year. Their idea was to include all their entertainment (HBO, TBS, TNT, Cartoon Network, Turner Classic Movies, and about 20 more ‘networks’ as we know them) into one streamer and hah hah, no more money to Netflix! It’s not a terrible idea, if you think about it as a money making business, though there were a lot more complications than just how hard it is to build out servers.
About halfway through that project, they announced the name was HBO Max, stating the ‘Max’ moniker with Cinemax. Those two companies (HBO and Cinemax) are sister companies, just to make it a little more complex. And on top of that (but wait, there’s more), AT&T added in more. Audience (a channel you could only get if you were on DirecTV, which is owned by … AT&T) was sunset and folded into HBO Max.
Vox has a whole article about the fact that HBO Max is and is not a part of HBO which I recommend you read. Basically we have HBO (the linear add-on channel we old TV fans are familiar with), HBO Go (the streaming part you get for free if you have HBO), HBO Now (a separate service which airs everything on HBO) and HBO Max (which airs everything on HBO and the other stations mentioned above). HBO Now doesn’t make any original content, HBO Max has more,
But then something odd happened. In February 2020, Warner Bros. and HBO Max made “Warner Max,” which was a film company who was going to make 8-10 mid-budget movies. That isn’t weird at all. The thing that was weird was only eight months later they changed course. Warner Max was consolidated into regular Warner Bros. Pictures.
Honestly, I think we should have seen the merger coming.
Who Merged Into What?
Jump ahead two years. It’s March 2022 and Discovery, Inc. has announced a merger with a divestiture of WarnerMedia. Meaning: AT&T is selling WarnerMedia to Discovery and Discovery will become “Warner Bros. Discovery.”
That kind of thing is pretty common. Go look up how many times “Paramount” has changed hands since the 1990s. It’s a shell game, like I said. But… Discovery already has Discovery+ and we (LezWatch) have a whopping zero shows from that network (actually either Discovery or Discovery+) for a very important reason. They don’t have any scripted content. They have documentaries, dramatizations of real events (which again, are not scripted per the terms used by TV people – unscripted content includes game shows, talk shows, documentaries, reality TV, and ‘true’ stories).
This gives us Discovery (all unscripted, all the time) and HBO Max (mostly scripted, some unscripted) combining forces. From the outset, that doesn’t sound silly at all. Merging means combining forces! But if you’ve lived through a company merger before, you know the first thing that happens is removing duplicates. Do you have two buildings? You don’t need two, you need one, close the expensive one. Do you have two managers in charge of show pitches? You don’t need two, you need one, fire the lower one on the totem pole.
All of that is incredibly normal. Not great, don’t get me wrong, but pretty normal.
What I didn’t expect was them say they were shutting down so much content.
Quality Content: Gone
Now there’s something important to bear in mind. HBO is a good, respected channel for a very specific reason. HBO doesn’t have a lot of crap content. HBO historical movies were a huge thing for me growing up. It was a shocker to read this statement in August:
As we work toward bringing our content catalogs together under one platform, we will be making changes to the content offering available on both HBO Max and discovery+. That will include the removal of some content from both platforms.
The reason provided was that it would ‘save money on residuals’ – or rather, they decided it was easier to just not pay creators for their work. I’d list them here, but it’s really a wiki-level page of everything. But the things that jumped out at a lot of us was how many children’s shows were kiboshed. I mean, not all animation is equal, but they generally aren’t considered the super expensive content (except if they hired spendy VAs), and it was making a massive comeback in a lot of ways.
And really the important take away is not what was removed but the fact that it’s gone.
No really, it’s gone.
Not terribly long ago, I read an article with the Kings (who made The Good Wife/The Good Fight ) and they pointed out they don’t actually have copies of their content anymore because it’s all digital:
Do you worry about a show like BrainDead, which ran for only one season, suddenly being raptured from a platform and lost to time?
MICHELLE There’s way too much to worry about. God bless BrainDead, but I cannot spend my nights awake, worrying about it being taken off Paramount+. (Laughs.)
ROBERT I’ll tell you what I worry about. We don’t have copies of it anywhere. We don’t have DVDs. If I need to remember a line that we used, to make sure we’re not copying ourselves, I go on Paramount+ and find it.
MICHELLE We could probably get copies. Or we could videotape it?
ROBERT With my iPhone? (Laughter.) Well, I’ve got to tell you, you hit on a sore point for almost all showrunners everywhere. They’re horrified by this sense that the work that they spent so much time on could just be, as you say, raptured up into the sky. And sometimes it’s being done by people who don’t have a creative bone in their body.
MICHELLE That’s the bigger worry. Books go out of print. It’s not the first time this has happened, but it does seem to be happening for all the wrong reasons.‘Good Fight’ Duo Michelle and Robert King Have Concerns About Where Hollywood Is Heading
I got chills.
I grew up well aware of the implications of books being censored and pulled out of circulation. I made sure to save my father’s collection of banned books when he died because he had a very long held belief that even a book you categorically disagree with and vilify should remain to educate people as to why it’s bad. You have to teach people why a thing is bad.
But here, we’re not even talking about questionably useful content like a book that exonerates Dhamer. We’re talking about cartoons about a kid who wants to be a super hero, step brothers who love adventure, anthropomorphic non-binary paintbrushes at camp, Elmo’s not-too-late-night talk show, and a kid in space.
These shows are lost.
Is it really that bad?
It really is. The people behind Final Space have nothing:
Cutting animation has been vile, especially since in the early days of the pandemic, it was animation that kept the lights on.
And naturally the other thing that got cut was Stage 13. That was something that slipped under the radar of anyone who isn’t close to production, but Stage 13 is basically where Warner Bros. did their original short-form content. Stage 13 was part of the Warner Bros Television Workshop which is where new, diverse (read ‘non cis male white’) creators were getting a start. The Workshop has been around fro 40 years and is ending next year due to all this, and it’s where so many amazing creators got noticed.
One thing non-TV humans tend to not realize is how much TV is still a ‘who you know’ apprenticeship process. Today’s head writer was an intern who made a friend and got a boost. But those boosts were severely limited until the Workshops started making a process to elevate which got us to where peak TV was just huge.
Instead, we’re seeing consolidation and business driving the creative. It’s not TV make money, it’s now force the last penny out of everyone and who cares if the content is good.
They’re sullying HBO’s name with this, which is just bad business, but worse, they’re making it harder and harder to get different content. New content. The stuff we actually rave about because it’s unique. Writers are pushed out of the room and executives are driving the car now.
Is there any hope?
A day after Warner Bros. said they were shuttering their projects to bring up diverse talent, they made a 180. The workshops are saved and will now be housed within WBD’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) unit, in partnership with WBTV. This was due, in part, to the DGA (Director’s Guild of America) pitching a fit at how stupid this was and how harmful.
That sounded great until we found out the DEI is excluding the people who made it work.
On top of that, Netflix and AppleTV+ are doing ads.
In other words, streaming was working until it wasn’t, and now they’re going back to an even crappier version of cable which we’ll all pay more for.
And then, one of my favourite TV reporters, the wonderful Mo Ryan, shared this:
TV, as it was, as it has been, is going away. The bubble is burst, and with more money put into cheaper content, scripted TV is falling to the wayside. If it doesn’t make a profit right away, it’s gone.