Layoffs, Anxiety and the Death of Company Loyalty: 'The Seats We Sit in Are All Rented'
Hollywood was once filled with dream jobs. But as town turmoil sends careers sideways, so go employees' expectations
This is first in an ongoing Culture of Work series about what it means to be employed in the entertainment business today.
Megan Skinner would love to be a lifer at a company. To be specific, the production coordinator would love the opportunity to be a lifer at a major entertainment company, but that hasn’t quite presented itself yet.
The 36-year-old recently finished a year-long contract working on HGTV and Discovery+ shows that, despite some proffered hope, didn’t convert to a full-time job. Now back on the hunt for work, she has had “hardly a single interview,” but she has heard from no fewer than six recruiters looking to hire for… the Warner Bros. Discovery position she was just let go from and is no longer eligible to fill.
“I would absolutely love to find someplace where I knew that they wanted me and I wanted to be there, and we were set for life — you know, like a marriage,” says Skinner, cheerily, from her residence in Knoxville, Tenn., a city home to a number of the home improvement and cooking productions in WBD’s non-scripted portfolio. “I will work super hard for you guys, as long as you guarantee me a paycheck and a roof over my head. Like, that's all I want. But I know better that that's just not a thing. There's no such thing as job security.”
Skinner has seen firsthand what can happen to what was once referred to (with a nod to the old gender-imbalanced workplace) as a “company man”: her father worked as a security guard for Scripps Networks Interactive for more than 20 years, she says, until it was acquired by Discovery in 2018 and he was summarily laid off. She herself is now a second-generation victim to consolidation by the same conglomerate. In her view, the entertainment job market in Knoxville feels like it’s shrinking too, still shaking off the double whammy of the Covid pandemic and that series of mergers. WBD CFO Gunnar Wiedenfels said last year that the entertainment titan would sell its Knoxville headquarters and migrate to a smaller space, a move that has raised questions about the company’s commitment to the region.
Skinner’s experience speaks to the uncertainty running rampant from coast to coast as waves of M&A and layoffs have crashed upon the shores of nearly every Hollywood institution. For workers, the refrains are the same: Does this company care at all about offering me a semblance of stability? Is this place worth my time and sweat? And if it isn’t, what next? What in the world am I doing with my life?
By this summer, the entertainment industry will have cut thousands of jobs — 7,000 at Disney alone, in addition to hundreds at Netflix and WBD and Paramount over the past year. And thanks to streaming’s globalization, that impact will be felt far beyond L.A.’s studio lots.
Of the industry workers who spoke to The Ankler, there’s the Bay Area software engineer who was laid off by Netflix not once, but twice, in the last two years; the creative executive whose loyalty to a studio can best be described as meh; the longtime showrunner who doesn’t see the point in learning the names of those creative execs “because they’ll be gone in a year.”
To say that dismay is in the air is an understatement.