LOS ANGELES — By 2018, nearly every studio in Hollywood’s Golden Age had been taken over by outside forces.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer had been among disruptive landlords for decades, never fully recovering. Columbia Pictures was sold to Coca-Cola in 1982, then transferred to Sony in 1989. Universal had weathered five outside acquisitions in the span of 21 years. Paramount Pictures had been mined for money by an ailing Sumner Redstone.
Warner Bros. was the Citadel of Hollywood itself, a beige-walled protectorate of filmmakers run by executives with institutional knowledge of Hollywood.
So AT&T went to town.
The Texas phone giant has taken over Warner Bros. in June 2018 as part of an attempt to “bring a new approach to the way the media and entertainment business operates,” as Randall told the era. L. Stephenson, then CEO of AT&T. When it set out to create a Netflix-style streaming service, AT&T cut and burned the ranks of Warner Bros. and incumbent leaders with little Hollywood experience. They cut costs, surprised stars with strong distribution decisions, and pushed Warner to behave more like a technology company and less like an entertainment company: this is the future!
“The people on the phone had no knowledge of Hollywood, no passion for movies,” Robert A. Daly, who ran Warner Bros. in the 1980s and 1990s, said Friday. “Foreigners always make the same mistake. Is Pin up business, Pin up business, Pin up business. They always forget it. »
On Friday, AT&T sold Warner Bros. to Discovery Inc. in a $43 billion merger.
The 99-year-old movie studio, home to Harry Potter, Batman and Bugs Bunny, will now head in a different direction: toward its traditional sweet spot as an entertainment company, or so the new Hollywood mogul has sworn. Discovery CEO David Zaslav will lead the new company, which is symbolically named Warner Bros. Discovery.
Zaslav has already defeated tech leaders brought in by AT&T, including Jason Kilar, who made his name on Hulu and Amazon, and Andy Forssel, who came via Oracle and Hulu. Ann Sarnoff, who AT&T hired to run Warner Bros. in 2019 despite having limited Hollywood experience, is also leaving. During her tenure, Ms. Sarnoff reworked the Warner Bros. shield logo, removing the gold border in favor of AT&T blue. On Friday, Mr. Zaslav restored the gold.
Some Hollywood actors have never changed their acid stance on Ms. Sarnoff, she’s not one of us, and the filmmakers poke fun at her delay in moving to Los Angeles from New York. (With the pandemic waning, she bought Matt Damon’s old house in November, spending about $18 million.)
Instead, Mr. Zaslav is already immersed in a lavish restoration of Woodland, a Beverly Hills estate where Robert Evans, the Pin up entrepreneurial legend, lasting for decades. Mr. Evans was known for orchestrating a creative renaissance at Paramount in the 1960s and ’70s, with landmark hits like “The Godfather” and “Chinatown.”