Does anyone really want David Zaslav in charge of Paramount Pictures?

Paramount Pictures
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Warner Bros Discovery is circling a possible merger with Paramount – but that’d put its CEO, David Zaslav, in charge of two studios. Sigh.

I’ve never met David Zaslav.

For all I know, the CEO of Warner Bros Discovery may be a lovely, caring man. He may spend his evenings devouring movies, checking on the wellbeing of his staff, and adopting puppies. I hope that’s the case.

This piece isn’t about the personal side of the man. There’s too much of that out there in entertainment reporting, and I want no part of it.

Almost as much as, on a professional level, I want David Zaslav to have no part at all of Paramount Pictures. I think he’s become a totem for much that’s wrong with modern movie studios.

News broke overnight that David Zaslav has had a discussion with his opposite number at Paramount, and the expected potential outcome is a merger between the two companies.

Warner, being the largest in terms of market valuation, would likely be the dominant partner in such a union. That’d put Zaslav in charge of one unified movie studio, and overseeing output from Paramount as a result. I’m just operating a few steps forward on the board here: there are other suitors for Paramount, there are regulatory hurdles, Warner Bros Discovery may not even pursue a deal. But at the moment, it’s a very active possibility that he may end up running Paramount.

Thing is, I don’t even like David Zaslav in charge of the studio he’s already heading up. I can only go by his actions in his job, but he appears to stand for pretty much what I don’t.

To David Zaslav, and I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here, films are ‘content’. I know he’s not alone there, but I get no sense that he appreciates the output that his company produces. In exchange for the $40m or so in salary that he’s been paid to take the role on, he’s if anything come across as anti-movies. He’s not giving the impression of pushing for interesting films, and working with filmmakers in the manner that Warner Bros used to be fame for. It’s about content.

Again, in fairness, Zaslav has clearly taken on a difficult job at a difficult time, but still: when he eventually retires, there’s not an article about him that won’t remind him of the decision he made to delete completed movies to save a few short-term dollars on the bottom line.

On a professional level, the decision to ‘delete’ Batgirl and Scoob! Holiday Haunt should, ironically enough, haunt him to his final day in the job, and I suspect it will. He wasn’t said to be directly responsible for Warner Bros trying the same trick with Coyote Vs Acme, but there’s no doubt he set the precedent. He’s the CEO of a company who weighed up the long term value of a completed movie, and the short term benefit of a tax write off, and chose the latter.

Not a single person running a Hollywood studio over the past few decades has made a similar decision. He’s overseen it three times.

But look at what else he oversaw. Look at the culture that he’s fostered at the company he heads. The HBO Max streaming service is now Max, and he’s been a strong proponent in paying to remove completed shows and films from Warner Bros from its service. To save dollars.

He was the person who had to be lobbied by the likes of Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese to mitigate cuts being made to the Turner Classic Movies network. TCM is never the kind of business to bring in megabucks, but it has an important role in film preservation and culture. No matter: to Zaslav, it appears to be just some more numbers to move around a spreadsheet.

And then there’s the strike action that took place in Hollywood this year. Zaslav conceded, incredibly, that after being one of the reasons why the writer’s strike went on so long, that the writers “are right about almost everything”. It was in a big piece in the New York Times, where the implication was that the strike could have been sorted earlier.

That piece also charted how he threw a massive Warner Bros party in Cannes this year, with writers back home on the picket line, looking for no more combined than Zaslav was being paid. It’s behind a paywall, but worth paying for: even-handed and depressing at the same time.

Warner Bros is a studio with a rich history, a home to some amazing filmmakers over the years. From my perspective, I don’t think that David Zaslav deserves to be a custodian of it, nor do I think he should be allowed anywhere near the Paramount Pictures lot. He gives me the very stark impression of being something of a cultural vandal if anything, and I think the creative community, and consumers, deserve better.

He is not the best of us.

I’m not naïve: I understand that films, television shows, streaming et al are a business. But I also think there’s balance when you’re running mega-billions-churning corporations. That they’re supposed to be more than numbers, and more than treating your own personal recompense as some kind of high school table.

Paramount, separately, has challenges of its own, but its movie slate has really turned around. If it must be sold, there are assorted options out there.

The Zaslav option does not seem the ideal one. I’d prefer him to adopt a few more puppies instead.

I have to end with a picture of a puppy. Maybe it’ll make me and David happier…

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