What’s Going on at TCM and Why Are Scorsese and Spielberg So Worried?


If you’ve been online at all in the past few days, you’ve probably seen rumblings, innuendo, and tweets portending doom about Warner Bros. Discovery head David Zaslav and TCM. However, unless you’re a Criterion-buying film head, it might be hard to suss out exactly what’s going on, and why so many people from the average Film Twitter mainstay to some of our most legendary directors, are worried about the fate of TCM aka “Turner Classic Movies”—which launched in 1994 and still presents classic and otherwise noteworthy old movies commercial free. Let’s break it down.

So what happened?

The inciting event was Warner CEO David Zaslav laying off a big chunk of the senior management at TCM on Tuesday. As in, the people responsible for the direction of the brand for the past few decades–notably general manager Pola Changnon, who had been there for 25 years. Other execs cut included the VP of programming and content strategy, the VP of brand creative and marketing, the VP of enterprises and strategic partnerships, the director of the annual TCM Film Festival, and the VP of studio production. The company announced in a memo that Michael Ouweleen, the president of Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, Discovery Family and Boomerang, would “take oversight” of TCM. Insiders have said the TCM staff is being slashed from 90 employees to 20.

What does that mean for TCM?

Basically, it’s hard to know, and the company line so far, as is true of virtually every layoff ever, is that none of the things people love about the brand will change, and that Warner Bros. Discover “remain fully committed to this business, the TCM brand, and its purpose to protect and celebrate culture-defining movies.”

So why are people worried?

Any time CEOs start monkeying with a beloved brand, people tend to get worried. Especially so in this case, as Zaslav, a 63-year-old former head of Discovery Inc. who took over Warner Bros. Discovery when Discovery Inc. merged with Warner Media last year, was the guy responsible for rebranding HBO Max as “Max.” This was a move many saw as watering down one of media’s strongest brands in order to remind people that Warner Bros. Discovery also owns a lot of trash now too. The app where you used to find HBO’s latest adult contemporary water cooler dramas still has those, but now with much greater space allotted to things like Ghost Adventures and a chiropractors-themed reality show called Crack Addicts. “Streamlining” a brand as all-encompassing as Warner Bros. Discovery (which isn’t unique in owning a lot of content simultaneously) can often mean making the stuff that you like harder to find. When so much of the process of watching things nowadays is separating signal from noise, these small moves have large ripple effects.

At one point Max even tweaked its “detail” pages so that rather than crediting directors, writers, and actors of films, it bundled them all under the vaguely Orwellian umbrella term “creators.” This was so instantly unpopular and widely ridiculed that they undid the change almost immediately and called it a mistake.

TCM was also widely seen as a leader in film preservation. With so many film libraries now owned by these large conglomerates, their leadership largely determines where you’ll be able to see classic films, for how much, in what format, and whether they’ll be available at all. It’s the same fear that Elon Musk will be able to unilaterally brick your Tesla with a software update, but as applied to classic movies. We don’t know that they will, but it’s clear that they c

What’s Going on at TCM and Why Are Scorsese and Spielberg So Worried?

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