David Zaslav declined to appear on stage at this week’s Warner Bros. Discovery upfront — which took an abbreviated form without the presence of celebrities due to the ongoing Writers Guild of America strike — but he emerged to make a public appearance on Sunday when he delivered the commencement address at Boston University. But despite being an educational event with no formal connection to Warner Bros. Discovery, the speech was still plagued by the strike-induced chaos that he likely hoped to avoid by skipping the upfronts (via The Hollywood Reporter).
The WGA made good on previously-announced plans to protest the speech, as picket lines could reportedly be seen outside of the venue. The guild had previously criticized the university’s decision to select Zaslav as a commencement speaker during an ongoing writers strike.
“Writers Guild members are on strike because companies, including Warner Bros. Discovery, refused to guarantee any level of weekly employment in episodic television, attempted to pivot late night writers to a day rate, stonewalled on free work on script revisions for screenwriters, and refused to even discuss our proposal on the existential threat AI poses to all writers,” the WGA said in a recent statement. “Boston University should not give voice to someone who wants to destroy their students ability to build a career in the film and television industry.”
But protests from professional writers were not the only problem that Zaslav had to deal with. As he delivered a speech filled with advice about the importance of hard work and getting along with different types of people, students frequently booed and yelled insults at him. Videos began to circulate on social media that featured an ongoing “Pay Your Writers!” chant drowning out the speech. More extreme obscenities could also be heard on occasion.
The speech took place around the one-year mark of Zaslav’s tenure at the helm of the media giant. His first year on the job was filled with controversial moves including the decision to scrap the completed “Batgirl” film and the merging of HBO Max and Discovery+ into a single streaming service known as Max.
“I am grateful to my alma mater, Boston University, for inviting me to be part of today’s commencement and for giving me an honorary degree,” Zaslav said in a statement provided to IndieWire. “And, as I have often said, I am immensely supportive of writers and hope the strike is resolved soon and in a way that they feel recognizes their value.”