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Opinion: Warner Bros. Discovery Earnings Report Reveals ‘Batgirl’ Cancellation As a Casualty of Merger Disaster

When news broke about Warner Bros. Discovery’s decision to scrap “Batgirl,” another entry in the DC Extended Universe that was scheduled to premiere on HBO Max later this year, some pinpointed it as the beginning of the end for what is still a newly-merged conglomerate.

Following nearly a year of negotiations, the merger was finalized on March 11, 2022. Two-way trading between AT&T, which owns nearly 72% of Warner Bros. Discovery, began on April 4, just in time for the year’s second fiscal quarter. Discovery CEO David Zaslav was selected to continue on as chief executive officer, and his plans have from the very beginning, been wildly ambitious.

As CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, Zaslav dedicated an annual budget of $20 billion to new content, with the intention of garnering 400 million subscribers to HBO Max, or whatever HBO Max becomes after it merges with Discovery+. Zaslav also committed the company to reduce costs by $3 billion as a result of the merger. This will largely be paid for by widespread layoffs to both Discovery and Warner Bros. employees.

At the end of Q2, Warner Bros. Discovery’s earnings report told a different story. The company reported an additional $3.4 billion in losses alongside a modest increase in subscribers. However, the company reported revenue that amounted to $2 billion less than expected, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The Los Angeles Times reports that WBD’s stock had already tanked 16% when the bell rang last Friday evening. Even so, Zaslav projected an air of optimism during last week’s earnings call, telling shareholders that the company would once again be focusing on theatrical releases while announcing his plans to refocus the DCEU.

According to Rotten Tomatoes, WBD also plans to merge HBO Max and Discovery+ by the end of 2023. CEO and President of Global Streaming and Games J.B. Perrette assured current subscribers that “there will be a transition plan that maximizes essentially retention.” He cited the possibility of grandfathering in current subscribers at their current rate.

These changes aren’t bad per se, but they have come at a price. Namely, the cancellation of highly anticipated new content and the cancellation of already beloved programming. The now infamous story of Nina Pedrad’s “Chad,” which was canceled and removed from the schedule just hours before its second season was set to debut on TBS, is emblematic of how far Zaslav is willing to go to steer the ship in a new direction.

Still, of all the shows or movies that were axed in WBD’s wake, none stung quite as bad as “Batgirl,” a $90 million project that has been reduced to what is essentially a tax write-off. The DCEU’s latest addition was helmed by “Bad Boys For Life” director duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah and starred Leslie Grace, a Dominican actress and singer who previously appeared in last year’s adaptation of “In the Heights,” based on the musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Initially, WBD claimed that the film’s cancellation was a result of poor test screenings. Many outlets ran with WBD’s version of the story. Just as many pushed back against those claims, labeling Zaslav’s decision as purely financial.

Even Rolling Stone, who supported the idea that “Batgirl” was nixed after test screenings went south, noted that WBD would have to invest another $7-$9 million to usher the film through post-production, not to mention the exorbitant marketing costs that would be advertising a film designed for immediate home release. Rather than sink more money into a movie they didn’t believe in, WBD opted to give “Batgirl” the boot.

The decision has been lambasted by everyone from Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige to “Clerks” director Kevin Smith, who took to his popular podcast “Hollywood Babble-On” to say, “It’s an incredibly bad look to cancel the Latina ‘Batgirl’ movie,” adding, “I don’t give a s— if the movie was absolute f—ing dogs— — I guarantee you that it wasn’t. The two directors who directed that movie did a couple of episodes of ‘Ms. Marvel,’ and it was a wonderful f—ing show and they had more money to do ‘Batgirl’ than they had to do an episode of ‘Ms. Marvel.'”

The film’s cast and crew have come out to thank fans and each other for the wonderful experiences they had on set. “Batgirl” star Grace took to Instagram, writing: “I feel blessed to have worked among absolute greats and forged relationships for a lifetime in the process!”

It is now one of the most expensive canceled films of all time, joining the ranks of movies like Netflix’s Gore Vidal biopic “Gore” and 2006’s “Revenge of the Nerds” remake, which were both canceled during or after production had already been underway.

Without the passionate fanbase of someone like Zack Snyder, who departed 2017’s “Justice League” following a personal tragedy, only to have his supporters demand a “Snyder Cut” that was ultimately released on HBO Max last year, there’s a good chance “Batgirl” will never be completed. It’s a shame, too, because Grace’s inclusion in the DCEU would have brought the franchise some much-needed diversity.

To date, the only member of the DCEU’s Justice League that hasn’t gotten a solo adventure is Cyborg, played by Ray Fisher. Fisher, a Black actor, parted ways with Warner Bros. following “Justice League” but returned to help Snyder do reshoots for his 2021 version and accused producers Geoff Johns, Toby Emmerich and Jon Berg of racism, including the assertion that Johns once said, “We can’t have an angry Black man at the center of the movie,” reports CBR.

As for “Batgirl,” it isn’t the only major casualty of WBD’s race to greener pastures. Adult Swim’s beloved “Joe Pera Talks with You” was unceremoniously sacked, along with the sequel to 2020’s “Scoob,” an animated film that was, according to one of its writers, “practically finished.” Despite attempts to shed its own skin, WBD seems to be repeating past mistakes.

So, what’s the solution? At this point, there probably isn’t one. WBD has made their bed, now they have to lie in it. If they want to press the reset button on everything, then that’s their prerogative. Even Disney and 20th Century Fox had a hard time breathing the same air at first.

But WBD has made a colossally bad first impression with shareholders, subscribers and really just the general public. If they do plan to mount some kind of comeback, it’s going to take more than an ad-supported HBO. They need more than a string of successes.

As one of the largest conglomerates in all of Hollywood, they need to ensure that the fate of “Batgirl” is an anomaly and that they won’t be in the business of canceling more movies for the tax write-off. Otherwise, they’re setting a terrible precedent for filmmakers and audiences alike. If not, what’s to stop every other studio from doing the same?

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