“Little Ellen” co-creator Jennifer Skelly learned that her show would be removed from HBO Max earlier this month by reading the news. In recent days, she’s witnessed dozens of other shows hit the hurdle as Warner Bros. Discovery purges the HBO streaming platform to reduce costs.
Not only have the first two seasons of the animated series, centered on a young Ellen DeGeneres, departed from HBO Max. In addition, 20 fully complete and never-before-seen episodes – comprising the next two seasons – will never be released.
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“It’s really devastating,” says Skelly Variety. “I’ve worked on a million things that have never seen the light of day, but it’s very rare that you get this far – it’s literally done – and you still won’t see the light of day.”
Just before the 10-episode Season 3 of “Little Ellen” was released in June 2022, Skelly was informed that Warner Bros. Discovery planned to keep it until 2023. It wasn’t until August that the team discovered the two seasons. 3 and 4 would be shelved indefinitely.
Skelly continues: “In the culture of streaming, I don’t know everything about how this process is done. But to me, it feels like, ‘Well, you have them. Just flip a switch. They are ready and delivered. But obviously there’s a lot of corporate stuff going on in terms of what that means for them financially.”
One of the main reasons for this content bloodbath is that Warner Bros. Discovery can reduce waste payment. But when creators sign pacts with streamers, they don’t expect their shows to suddenly disappear. Physical releases are largely a thing of the past, and creatives don’t own the distribution rights to their work, meaning the only way for people to watch many of the recently shelved series is to illegally pirate them. As a result of Warner Bros. Discovery decides that certain shows aren’t worth keeping on HBO Max, those shows essentially now cease to exist.
“There were writers who got their first episodes in those 20 years, and directors who got their first chance to direct,” says Skelly. “We’ve had a lot of firsts on our team, and they won’t be able to see those episodes on TV and see their credits. It’s really hard.”
When asked if she thinks the creators will be cautious about working with Warner Bros. Discovery in the future, Skelly says, “I don’t think people are going to avoid working with this studio or even necessarily knowing what to ask for in the contract to protect themselves, because the parameters in a year and a half will be different again.”
Over the course of its run, “Little Ellen” faced turmoil not only with the merger of Warner Bros. Discovery, but also with the downfall of DeGeneres, the very theme of the series.
“We were a perfect storm of a lot of things, because the Ellen brand has also suffered in recent years,” says Skelly. “Our show wasn’t going to get much love anyway for that reason. We started at the height of his career, but by the time he was animated – because it takes forever to do something in animation – his brand was in a really different place and his show was ending.”
In 2020, DeGeneres’ talk show became the subject of an internal investigation by WarnerMedia following multiple reports of workplace problems on the long-running daytime series, including sexual misconduct, racism, bullying, and treatment of legacy employees during lockdown. of COVID-19. DeGeneres fired three of the show’s top producers and apologized on-air for reports of mistreatment on his show. In 2021, DeGeneres announced that the show would end after its 19th season in 2022.
“That was another thing that was totally out of our control,” says Skelly. “There was so much turmoil around the Ellen brand when we were starting to get into animation, and I thought they would eventually decide not to go ahead with the show. But they said, ‘No, let’s move on,’ and that was amazing. We were still able to create beautiful work.”
As for Skelly’s own experience working with DeGeneres, the “Little Ellen” co-creator says her “interaction with her was less than 0%.”
“I met her once, very briefly, but it all went through Warner Bros. There wasn’t much interaction with her company, and certainly not with her directly. We were really doing our own thing in our own world, which was great.”
As more shows disappear from HBO Max, Skelly can’t help but notice that animated series seems to be taking a disproportionate impact.
“When the pandemic hit, we were working on our first episode. We weren’t even excited yet, and we took our computers home on a Friday and met on Zoom on Monday morning. We didn’t miss a beat,” Skelly said. “Animation has kept the industry going during the pandemic, and it’s been hit hard between Netflix and Discovery right now. It feels like an extra kick in the teeth on top of all that.”
She continues: “We were the ones who kept going when no one could show up on set, and COVID protocols were preventing people from filming. But we still create content for you. And now that we’ve done that, and the pandemic is slowing, it feels like we’re being kicked to the curb. And that is a huge frustration among the animation community right now.”
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