Why HBO's Cancellation Of 'Gordita Chronicles' Is A Lightweight Move
David Zaslav has been chief executive of Warner Bros. Discovery for fewer than four months. Yet even in that very short window, he and the new managers of subsidiary WarnerMedia are well into overhauling the media company.
The latest victim of the restructuring? Latinos.
The motives behind this week’s cancellation of the brand-new and critically acclaimed comedy series Gordita Chronicles are irrelevant to its impact. Given Hollywood’s horrible history in casting and empowering Latinos both in front of and behind the cameras, the loss of one show anchored by a Latino cast is devastating.
HBO Max canceled Gordita Chronicles just a month after it debuted to strong reviews and social media word-of-mouth. The subscription streaming platform said it was scrapping the series as part of a new shift away from family and live-action family programming.
Abandoning Gordita Chronicles follows similar about-faces in the weeks after Discovery (whose channels include Discovery, HGTV and Animal Planet) acquired WarnerMedia (home to Warner Bros., HBO and TNT, among many other media outlets) from AT&T for $43 billion this March.
Zaslav’s team folded the streaming news site CNN+ just three weeks after it started to roll out at a cost of $300 million.
You can reasonably argue (even with so much disinformation) that launching another news channel was not a necessity. But you certainly cannot make the same case for canceling Gordita Chronicles. The show is a true unicorn: not only did it fill an historic void, but it also was well-made.
Two of the show’s executive producers, Eva Longoria and Zoe Saldaña, said they were “heartbroken” by the decision. And it’s not just that they lost their own show; part of the nation’s booming Latino population also will suffer. (Longoria and Saldaña hope another network will pick up Gordita Chronicles, as was the case with Community and Brooklyn Nine-Nine.)
People who identify as Latino or Hispanic make up 19% of the nation’s population. But if you watch television, subscribe to streaming platforms or attend movies, you wouldn't know.
According to last year’s study by UCLA’s Hollywood Diversity Report, Latinos accounted for barely 7% of lead roles on broadcast TV in the 2019-2020 season. On cable and streaming channels, they fared even worse, collecting just 5.7% of lead roles.
At the multiplex, the data is just as grim. In its study of movie casting, USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative found that in 2019 — the last full year of movie releases before the pandemic — Latinos didn’t even account for 5% of roles in that year’s 100 most popular films.
The Walt Disney Co. was the industry leader, albeit on the wrong side: That year it didn’t hire a single director who wasn’t white, and it didn’t cast a single woman from any under-represented group as a female lead or co-lead.
Zaslav and his team run a public company, whose shareholders expect Warner Bros. Discovery to follow the best strategies for profitability. So they’re under no obligation to keep making a show like Gordita Chronicles if it’s not part of their business plan. (Although slashing Zaslav’s compensation — an altogether obscene $246 million last year — certainly would help the bottom line.)
But Latinos make up a disproportionate share of the entertainment audience. Latinos account for about one-fourth of all movie tickets sold, and make up more than a third of all streaming viewers, and the country’s Latino population continues growing.
So HBO Max can try to court that audience.
Or it can walk away.