David Zaslav had an awkward Sunday. The Warner Bros. Discovery CEO delivered a commencement speech at Boston University, but it was memorable for all the wrong reasons.
As he reflected upon his career, audience members shouted “shut up Zaslav” and “we don’t want you here.”
The problem: His speech came during an ongoing strike by Hollywood writers, who want better pay, new contracts for the streaming era, and protection against content generated by artificial intelligence. “Pay your writers!” was another chant directed his way.
“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 guild said in a statement later, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
Actor Sean Penn backed the writers this week, saying: “There’s a lot of new concepts being tossed about including the use of A.I. It strikes me as a human obscenity for there to be pushback on that from the producers.”
“Some people will be looking for a fight,” Zaslav told students, eliciting boos and cheers. “But don’t be the one they find it with. Focus on good people’s qualities. In my career, I’ve seen so many talented people lose opportunities or jobs because they couldn’t get along with others. You can’t choose the people you work with. Figure out what you like about a person—there’s always something—and do whatever it takes to navigate their challenges. We all have them.”
Some students laughed at the sentiment. Vanessa Barlett, a graduating senior who helped lead a writers strike solidarity event at the university, told the Hollywood Reporter: “I’m in the same college as a bunch of film and TV kids. I’m friends with a lot of people in the College of Fine Arts, people who are in the theater arts program, so having a sense of solidarity is very important to me.”
Zaslav also irked audience member when he spoke of his financial success as a lawyer, saying: “I was making good money, I was feeling really great.” That garnered boos and groans.
Zaslav later said in a statement: “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, 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.”
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