The Method to Turner Networks’ Scripted Madness

David Zaslav, TBS and TNT impact
Yinchen Niu/VIP+

While quick cancellations are nothing new in linear TV, scrapping the second season of scripted comedy “Chad” on Monday — the same day as it was scheduled to premiere—was eyebrow-raising even by cable network standards.

This is the latest in decisions for cable giants TBS and TNT from Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav. In the craze to cut costs, he is setting out to fundamentally alter the content on the networks, shifting them from a blend of scripted, unscripted and sports originals to keeping sports but jettisoning scripted and only focusing on unscripted.

It’s one thing to suspend originals in an attempt to cut costs, but it does run counter to that ideal to scrap shows that are paid for, and have ads sold against, just before they air.

The cessation of scripted suggests that Zaslav sees TBS and TNT as networks airing syndicated reruns, movie reruns, sports and unscripted. Given that sports tend to skew male, it would be sensible to assume the unscripted shows the Turner nets would schedule would do same (and follow the blueprint of All Elite Wrestling’s involvement with reality shows across TBS, TNT, TruTV and now “Shark Week” on Discovery).

With TNT in particular already heavily reliant on NBA games, it is likely that Zaslav has earmarked retaining league rights as critical to future success of the network. VIP+’s recent analysis on sports rights saw an estimate that the next round of NBA rights, beginning in 2026, will increase by $1.2 billion overall to $3.8 billion.

This means that Warner Bros. Discovery will need to find at least a half billion dollars more to pay for them. With TBS and TNT already seeing high levels of affiliate fee increases despite fewer people watching and fewer originals airing, it will be a hard sell to pass these costs solely along to consumers and advertisers, and thus money must be found from somewhere internally.

Going back to the AEW example noted earlier, emulating this with the other sports Warner Bros. Discovery holds — namely MLB, NBA and NHL — would be a smart brand extension and also a way to create successful male-skewing reality content.

Historically, men have had little interest in unscripted networks aimed solely at them — RIP, Esquire Network — but the success of sports-related content, such as ESPN’s “The Last Dance” and A&E Network’s recent WWE on A&E slate of shows, indicates that men will watch if content is an extension of what they already view.

Discovery’s acquisition of WarnerMedia saddled the new venture with debts of approximately $43 billion, leaving Zaslav in a tight spot. Cutting spend and altering the identity of the crown jewels of WarnerMedia’s cable networks is a necessity — and with the right content, it will work. But the pressure is on to add to the success of the brands acquired and not damage them.