Warner Bros. Suspends Deals with Big Name Producers

Warner Bros. Discovery is cutting costs amid the actors’ and writers’ strikes. After CEO David Zaslav claimed the studio was set to lose $300-500 million due to the strikes, The Hollywood Reporter has learned from sources that Warner Bros. is suspending its deals with several producers, including JJ Abrams and his production company Bad Robot, Chuck Lorre, Greg Berlanti, Mindy Kaling, John Wells, and Bill Lawrence. In fact, THR’s sources tell them that Lorre’s contract was “quietly suspended in May,” just a week into the writers’ strike. The deals are not being canceled, just suspended, and could be reinstated whenever the strike ends – and at least some of them almost certainly will be. This is at least partly about cutting costs while the strikes continue.

While not permanent in certainly some, probably most, and perhaps even all of their cases, these suspensions are a big deal because these are not nobodies. Chuck Lorre has been with Warner Bros. since 2000, producing mega-hits like The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men. Bill Lawrence only signed his deal with WB in 2022 and has produced one show – AppleTV’s Shrinking – since, but before that, he was behind Scrubs and Ted Lasso, both huge shows and the latter for Warner Bros.; he also wrote for Friends, Spin City, Boy Meets World, and The Nanny, and he co-created Cougar Town. John Wells produced ER, The West Wing, Third Watch, and Shameless for Warner Bros. (not to mention the criminally – that’s a pun for the handful of people who’ve even heard of the show – Smith, which was canceled after three episodes).

Then, we start getting into murkier territory; Mindy Kaling is high-profile, but more because of her politics and social messaging than the success of her shows, even The Mindy Project; she is a big name, though, and has written for The Office (the American version). Greg Berlanti produced the CW DC Comics shows, but those have all either disappeared or are on their last legs, and their ratings had been going downhill for a while; the entire network never turned a profit for Warner Bros. and was recently sold. Then, ignominiously, there’s JJ Abrams, who is certainly a big name but did with his Warner Bros. deal what he does with his creative endeavors – hooked people in and never paid off on his promise. He and Bad Robot got $250 million for the overall deal in 2019 and produced the same amount of content as an empty bag. He’s supposedly working on a Stephen King novel called Billy Summers, and there’s that black Superman movie or show or whatever it is from Ta-Nahesi Coates that will never happen, and that’s it. His other DC stuff is all canceled now that the comic book’s film and TV universe is under new management, an HBO series called Demimonde was also canned, and the rest of his projects have never gained any traction.

How will this shake out once the strikes end? I suspect Chuck Lorre, Bill Lawrence, and John Wells will have their deals reinstated; they’re gold mines for Warner Bros., and the studio can’t afford to lose them right now. Kaling will probably be back, too, but more because it’s socially unacceptable in Hollywood to get rid of her rather than because she’s going to make them any money. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Warner Bros. simply gets rid of Abrams and Berlanti. Berlanti, especially, is probably done for; DC is heading in a new, unified direction, and his shows are not going to be a part of James Gunn and Peter Safran’s DCU. (Plus, again, his work doesn’t sell.) Abrams is a bit iffier, and he might stick around just for his name recognition, but so far, he’s done nothing but sponge up money for zero results. 2019 was four years ago; that he hasn’t produced a single series or movie since then is criminal. David Zaslav must have been pulling his hair out over this since taking over the company. For some reason, Hollywood still worships the guy, so if he hangs on, it’ll be due to his clout, but WB would be wise to just cut their losses with him.

Round and round we go as Hollywood feels a lot of self-inflicted pain.

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