On Tuesday, the Warner Bros. Television Group (WBTVG) terminated 82 scripted, unscripted, and animation staff members and decided not to fill another 43 vacancies. The 125 roles accounted for 26% of the total employment of the company in those units.
The layoffs, though widely anticipated, don’t entirely capture the situation at Warner Bros. Discovery’s animation studios. In reality, a more significant announcement was made yesterday that would radically change the way Cartoon Network Studios is organized moving forward and will have a significant impact on the content it creates. The business refers to it as a “strategic realignment.”
Warner Bros. Animation (WBA) and Cartoon Network Studios will be merged as part of the company’s aim to fully unify its animation division, according to a memo distributed to all employees by chairman Channing Dungey (CNS). Sam Register will remain in his current position as CEO of WBA, CNS, and Hanna-Barbera Studios Europe, which will continue to run separately from the other two.
All three designations will continue to exist, but potentially more in name than in practice, the memo claims. WBA and CNS will now combine their development and production departments, building on the cross-studio teams currently in place for programming, casting, legal and commercial matters, and artist relations.
That seems to be a bad omen for new, original Cartoon Network animation in the future. While CNS is the studio that releases original series and specials that occasionally become touchstones for generations of viewers, WBA has historically been considerably more catalog/IP-driven.
Given that Warner Bros. Discovery, led by CEO David Zaslav, has stated a desire to place a greater emphasis on intellectual property (IP) across all of its businesses, and given that CNS must now share development and production resources with WBA, it is challenging to envision a scenario in which the studio’s original animation output will match what it has been in the past. As long as Zaslav reigns supreme, Cartoon Network Studios is expected to focus more on rebooting its back catalog, as it is now doing with The Powerpuff Girls, than creating fresh intellectual property.
Uncle Grandpa, Steven Universe, Clarence, During the Garden Wall, We Bare Bears, Craig of the Creek, Summer Camp Island, Infinity Train, and Primal, to name a few, are just a handful of the productions that CNS has produced over the past ten years. In contrast, WBA’s lineup has been centered on classic characters and includes shows like The Tom and Jerry Show, Animaniacs, Harley Quinn, Justice League Action, Aquaman: King of Atlantis, Teen Titans Go!, Jellystone!, and Looney Tunes Cartoons.
Many fans of animation may not have completely appreciated the significance of yesterday’s revelation, but those in the industry were aware of its importance and how it would affect the future of Cartoon Network Studio and, by extension, Cartoon Network. A excerpt from the Variety article and a somber two-word description of what he believes it implies for the future of Cartoon Network Studios were tweeted by Brian Miller, a former general manager of Cartoon Network Studios and a significant figurehead at the firm for 21 years: CNS, “RIP.”
According to the new structure, Audrey Diehl will head up the development of children’s and family shows at WBA and CNS, Peter Girardi will oversee adult animation, Sammy Perlmutter will oversee animated longform series, and Bobbie Page will oversee primary production. As executive vice president and general manager, Ed Adams will stay on.