On July 3, GQ published an article online by film critic and writer Jason Bailey. It was a succinct, if scathing, report of David Zaslav’s litany of (perceived) crimes against cinema, some of which I have covered over the last year.
Nothing in the article has not already been widely covered across the media landscape, but Bailey put his stamp on the piece with his witty and cutting observations about Zaslav becoming “public enemy number one” in Hollywood. The article was sharply worded, but ultimately just a recap of current Hollywood events, the kind of thing that film nerds would share amongst their online bubbles for the space of a day, then would fade into the digital ether as the next story comes along.
Well, in a classic Streisand Effect situation, David Zaslav made a big stink about it and now here we are, still talking about Bailey’s article, with a side bonus of how sensitive Zaslav revealed himself to be. You can read Bailey’s original article archived here to get a sense of what got Zaslav so upset.
Apparently, Zaslav complained about the piece to two GQ editors, including editor-in-chief Will Welch, who is producing a movie set to be released by Warner Bros. Discovery. Seems like a conflict of interest to me! Bailey’s article was first edited to alter the tone, removing references comparing Zaslav to Edward Lewis, the corporate raider played by Richard Gere in Pretty Woman, and Succession’s Logan Roy (notably, both Logan Roy and especially Edward Lewis possess a certain amount of personal charm that endears them to audiences despite their corporate bully tendencies), as well as Bailey’s original, incisive kicker condemning Zaslav as one of Hollywood’s chief villains.
At that stage, Bailey asked to have his byline removed, as was his right since they were essentially rewriting his piece, which he declined to do himself. GQ ended up pulling it all together. Bailey said he “felt [he] wrote the story [he] was hired to write”, and a GQ spokeswoman said the article wasn’t “properly edited”. I read the article not long after it was published. It is a polished, incisive piece of writing. I think the problem is less the editing and more that the guy controlling the developmental purse strings for a film project of a GQ editor got mad and made a phone call.
(In 2021, Zaslav bought Robert Evans’ old Beverly Hills estate, a notable home designed by John Elgin Woolf, originator of the “Hollywood Regency” style. The house has fallen into some disrepair and needs major renovation. I am now rather worried about what Zaslav is doing to that house, with its famous pool, given how he’s treating Warner Brothers, Turner Classic Movies, and HBO. He says he loves Hollywood, but does he? Really?)
In the ongoing drama of Warner Bros. Discovery coming across more and more as a place hostile to filmmaking—its chief business—we can now add “the CEO is a thin-skinned baby-man” to our bingo cards. Every day I buy a little bit more into the theory that Zaslav resents being thought of as a reality TV hack—he allegedly objected to Bailey referring to his Discovery channel output as “reality slop”—and that instead of working to build up his reputation as a film studio honcho, he is instead tearing everything down to his level.
Once again, I cannot imagine creatives choosing to work for Warner Bros. Discovery and David Zaslav. Some won’t have a choice, they won’t have the power, they’ll need the job, et cetera. But the ones who can take their business wherever they want? Why would they ever choose to align with this guy?
Live long and gossip,