What You Need To Know About The New Warner Bros. Discovery CEO, And What It Means For The Studio

David Zaslav is a name that most movie fans probably haven't heard until very recently. Yet, the man's name has been uttered many times as of late, mostly because he is currently serving as the CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, the gigantic media company that formed in early 2022 as a result of the merger between WarnerMedia and Discovery. The high-ranking executive is implementing a new corporate strategy, the repercussions of which have already made major waves in the entertainment industry.

Big movies that were nearly finished, such as "Batgirl" and "Scoob! Holiday Haunt," were completely scrapped. Movies and shows have been disappearing from HBO Max without warning. Mass layoffs are on the way, and the company is completely restructuring its streaming strategy. Much of this is coming at the expense of creators and those who work to bring the company's movies and TV shows to life. But Zaslav is a business-minded man who gets results, perhaps ruthlessly so. Given that so many of us were unfamiliar with him up until very recently, it's worth going over his history in the industry and some things worth knowing about him. 

Because, quite frankly, the fate of so many movies, TV shows, and franchises we love rests squarely on his shoulders.

David Zaslav's career up to now

To understand David Zaslav now, it's important to understand where he's been and where he comes from. Professionally speaking, he first rose to power as NBC's president of Cable and Domestic TV and New Media Distribution after being hired by the company in 1989. During his time there, he oversaw the distribution of all the company's TV projects, from scripted to unscripted and everything in between. He also negotiated carriage deals with cable and satellite companies at a time when that was perhaps the premier money-driver in the industry. Just some of the networks that fell under his umbrella included Bravo, Syfy, Telemundo, Trio, Universal HD, The History Channel, A&E, and USA Network. Plus, he helped launch CNBC.

Zaslav joined Discovery in 2006 as the company's new CEO, taking over for Judith McHale. One does not become the CEO of a major brand such as that without a track record of success. Under his leadership, Discovery greatly expanded its operations and became a publicly traded company, even making it to the Fortune 500 list. The company flourished and ballooned under his leadership, with a gigantic focus on unscripted content. Discovery+, the company's streaming service, became a major reflection of that in the new media age. And it seems that fondness for unscripted content is going to carry over into his new job heading up everything under the Warner Bros. Discovery umbrella.

He's not a fan of scripted content

One of the biggest things that has come to definite Zaslav's career is his knack for squeezing the juice out of unscripted content. Across Discovery's many networks, the man turned shows like "Deadliest Catch," "Naked and Afraid," "Dirty Jobs," "Man vs. Wild," and near-countless others into low-cost hits. That's what he does, and he does it very well. The thing is, Warner Bros. and HBO, which were essentially folded together along with other Warner assets to populate HBO Max, have a strong focus on scripted movies and TV shows, with franchises such as DC and "Harry Potter" owned by the conglomerate.

Be that as it may, it is worth noting that Zaslav has made his position on the matter clear: Unscripted is cheap and therefore he likes it more. "It's like a kid's soccer game — everyone saw something that worked and started chasing the ball. It's way too expensive," he once said of scripted entertainment. People have accused Zaslav of hating movies, and that may be unfair. From a business perspective, though, he sees the return on investment from unscripted versus scripted and likes those returns more. This especially applies to the streaming game where companies are relying on subscriber dollars to justify the costs of prestige TV shows that can draw a lot of eyeballs.

In fairness, the comments above were made when Zaslav was at Discovery before the merger. He undoubtedly understands that scripted is a part of the business — and he actually likes HBO quite a bit. That's why Casey Bloys, HBO's chief content officer, recently signed a massive five-year deal to stay with the company under Zaslav's leadership. HBO's track record, with everything from "The Sopranos" to "Game of Thrones," speaks for itself. If you're going to be in the scripted TV business, HBO is arguably the best place to be. But there is no question that Zaslav's love for profits is going to be a factor in shaping the company that Warner Bros. Discovery is going to become.

Diversity seems to be an issue

Another key point about Zaslav that is well worth pointing out, especially in an era in which so many companies are making strides towards diversity, is that he does not seem to be concerned with such things. Quite the opposite, actually. As reported by Bloomberg recently, the leadership structure at Warner Bros. Discovery following the merger has actually become less diverse at the highest levels almost exclusively as a result of Zaslav's decision-making.

According to that report, the new CEO of the media conglomerate was afforded six seats on the company's new board. He and Discovery opted to appoint white men to all six of those seats. Zaslav has folks within the company who directly report to him who head up different divisions and oversee various aspects of the larger operations. 13 of the CEO's recent appointments in this department are also white men. WarnerMedia's heads of communications and finance were also replaced with white men who worked with Zaslav at Discovery.

Perhaps most eyebrow-raising of all is when, in April of 2022, Zaslav fired the now-former Warner Bros. chairman Ann Sarnoff, who was one of the highest-ranking women in Hollywood. He has not replaced her role as of this writing, which is also worth scrutiny. If/when that position is filled, and if it is with anyone who is not a woman or a diverse hire of some kind, it could cement the pattern that this man has established up to this point in his tenure. Diversity does not matter to him. Period.

Zaslav is all business

It all comes back to one, inescapable fact: David Zaslav is all business, all the time. One truly staggering example of this has to do with how the executive responded to Clint Eastwood's 2021 western "Cry Macho." The film did not perform well at the box office, and even when factoring in what it did on HBO Max, it was far from a hit, if not a flop. In a report from the Wall Street Journal, Zaslav supposedly questioned executives at the company about their decision to give the film the green light despite some doubts they had about its viability. They cited the fact that Eastwood has a 50-year reputation with the studio and has made many, many hits for them over the years. Zaslav's response? "It's not show friends, it's show business." This is how the man operates, plain and simple. 

That is Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav, and that is the man who is now at the highest position of power within one of the most powerful media companies in the world right now. For better or for worse, he is the man making the biggest decisions and guiding the company into the future. Will it be bright or bleak? Time will be the judge of that, but the picture that has been painted of him so far is a harsh, no bulls*** one — that much is certain.