Warners Succession, the Boys Club, and 25 Women to Consider
Joe Biden can declare a woman (Black too!) will get a top job, but Hollywood won't, can't, doesn't
As Discovery and Warner amble towards the altar, Hollywood prepares to enter into its parlor favorite game — who will get the big job?
It's a game not unlike the Victorian jockeyings around an available heiress with a massive fortune who has just come onto the market, as the elite ponder which of their number will claim the great prize.
The Hollywood version of the roundelay is similar to that Victorian version in that, the winner can only be a man. In 19th century London, because such were the rules of matrimony. And here because, every single time there's a seat open — well, who else would you give it to? It's such a massive job...there's only a few people qualified don't you know.
And so the olde timey primogeniture sweepstakes will boil down to:
Former Studio head who never got a chance before he fell afoul of his then-boss.
MBA Keep the Trains Running No-Nonsense Manager who was CFO of some studio a few years ago.
MBA who did a bang-up job as head of some division, not film or TV.
Fifty-something “boyish” Wunderkind (did something “digital”, directed Norbit) who wows the Boomer Elite every time they run into him at Nobu.
So many different varieties of usual suspects! But however it goes, when they sift through all the different qualities that one looks for in a leader and picks the best fit for an enormous job, where the needle lands just somehow 100 percent of the time is on someone who may be a lot of things as long as one of those things is male.
And listen, maybe the very best possible person on Earth to run Warner Discovery, when they carefully weigh all the needs and test scores and Myers Briggs and letters of recommendation and extra-curriculars, when they weigh that against the needs of the company for innovation vs. steadiness, for financial acumen vs talent relations — maybe when the computer spits out the best fit for all this, there is a male candidate who is incontestably the perfect fit.
But isn't it getting past weird how that happens not most of the time, but every…single...time?
What do Bob Chapek, Bob Bakish, Tony Vincequerra, Jeff Shell, Ted Sarandos, Zack and Jamie and Mike Hopkins all have in common?
What do they share in common with the heads of every single agency and major management company while you're at it?
Hey, they weighed the candidates, and that's who the best person for the job turned out to be! Every time, isn't that crazy? What are the chances?
It's gotten so the women of Hollywood don't even seem to hold out any hope that this time it might be different, years after #MeToo, decades after the opening of the workplace.
Let's take a step back to look at the Discovery Warner Derby to find the Man Who Would be Kilar. Excuse me the “Person Who Would”...
When thinking about who will get the job, let’s take a step back and look at who is hiring, his desires, his insecurities. What do they want to project and defend against?
Consider the psychology of the individual, as Jeeves teaches us.
If the world divides into workhorses and show horses, let's start with where David Zaslav fits in.
He's a man of great accomplishments. By all accounts a ridiculously hard worker. The Insider account of his exec search contained this chilling passage: "In the past few weeks, Zaslav has started meetings at 7 AM to pore over the potential combined books of the newly merged company.” (Poring over the books at 7 AM...let me step over here and take my name out of the running if I may.)
But he also is a man who seems to really like the Hamptons. Who sits for Vanity Fair profiles featuring accounts of jet-borne champagne toasts among the clouds. Whose very deal began over a phone call with AT&T’s John Stankey commiserating their loss in missing the AT&T Pebble Beach golf tournament. And a person who buys Robert Evans home is not, shall we say, immune to the side of Hollywood that is not...poring over the books at 7 AM.
Mr. Z may well have the temperament and the upbringing of a workhorse, but this is a man yearning towards Secretariat-level show horsedom.
Which, you know, given that this is the business of show, a little striving for razzle dazzle ain't the worst thing in a CEO. It's not like we're hungry for another buttoned-down, in bed by 9, Power Point-spewing MBA to come tell us how to do things. Warners, you may recall, is just escaping from one of those.
Anyhow point is, wherever Mr. Z comes from, the center of Hollywood is where he is now, and he's not about to bring in someone who's going to outshine him at his own table at the Governors Ball.
And given that he is a man who actually knows how to run a business, having a healthy respect for people who can keep the trains running, would suggest the winner will be…Boring Non-flashy Business type (white, of course) who will be a sane and competent manager, leaving the "visionary" thing to the man at the top.
In other words — another Bob Chapek, Bob Bakish, Tony Vincequerra, Jeff Shell.
Now suppose for a moment, that like Joe Biden seeking to fill the court vacancy or name his VP, Mr. Z made a pledge to appoint a woman to the job. If they are looking for someone of that no-nonsense, business mind, steady manager model, as it turns out, they have one of those right there. Just a notch below the Natural Born Kilar. Ann Sarnoff, remember her?
But of course, that's just crazy. You can't give a job like that to her...when there are giants like Bakish and Vincequerra she'll have go toe-to-toe with?
That's the thing here. Every time one of these jobs doesn't go to a woman...it's not like any of them in the past decade have gone to anyone who has a clue how to get Hollywood out of the hole(s) it’s dug itself into. How could a woman compete with plodding apparatchik #473?
Just for the sake of it, as The Derby heats up we'll see these lists of the usual suspects and dream casting the new Tsar floated. And they will have maybe or two female names. Or none. But if say Zaslav were to make a Biden pledge, what would that list of possible contenders look like.
Here's a few off top of my head:
The aforementioned, Ann Sarnoff
To name a few!
Plus 5000 business MBA types whom you or I have never heard of out there heading the foreign sales cable licensing division or God knows what.
Is that list really so much worse than any list of contenders that we'll see floated? The individual names will all have their admirers and critics, as would the current incumbents, but that's an impressive group with a lot of different kinds of experience. So you're telling me it's impossible to find a studio head on that list?
Yes, we know the knocks. They love press too much! Or the press doesn’t like them! They’re “crazy”, “boring”, “difficult”, “psycho”, “schemer”, “screamer”… You know the honor roll, most of which you could easily attach to any of the men running a studio now if you catch them at the right hour of the
And I don't want to imply that it's impossible for a man to be a good studio head, but is that list really worse than the list of people running studios today? And bonus: I don’t believe a woman on that list has ever exchanged a role in a project for sexual favors from an actress and thusly was extorted.
In fact, if you were to swap the top 25 people running studios today for that list, wouldn't that probably be a net gain? Perhaps a pretty significant one...
But somehow, there will no doubt be another reason why this time they've got to go with Rock Solid Exec 25762. And I'm sure it will be so much better this time.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and hoping for a different result. In Hollywood, insanity is another word for "the way we do things.” Making the same movies; hiring the same people; changing not a thing about how we do business until there’s nothing left to bury.
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