Fewer than 24 hours after the shuttering of Warner Bros. Television Group’s long-running writers’ and directors’ workshops prompted outcry and lament from industry creatives – and a challenge from the Directors Guild of America – Warner Bros. Discovery announced that the workshops weren’t dead after all: They were simply being relocated from the TV division to the company’s corporate DEI team.
WBD senior vice president Karen Horne, now US lead for DEI under the team’s recent restructuring, says that she had made clear to leadership that her goal always was to unify the company’s pipeline programs under the DEI division (the WBD Access portfolio already includes development programs across categories including animation, comedy, games, news and sports, post-production and unscripted) and that she would ensure there was a home for any entry-level TV writing and directing workshops as well.
Horne joined then-WarnerMedia in 2020 to oversee pipeline programs, having done the same during a long-time stint at NBCUniversal and before that Nickelodeon and Disney. At NBCU, she launched such programs as Female Forward and Emerging Directors, which set new standards for industry pipeline programs by guaranteeing participants an episodic job. She spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about what the former WBTV workshops will look like under new management.
When can we expect the workshops to come back?
We’re going to try to stick as close as possible with the schedule the current workshops have, but I’m not going to commit to saying it’s the exact same schedule. Productions now go year-round, and while the current schedule benefits broadcast, we don’t have to make sure on the writing or directing side that that’s the case. Additionally, the program will expand under our supervision. It will be equally as robust but arguably much broader because we will also work with our TNet partners, HBO Max – which a lot of the Warner Bros. Television Group produces programming for anyway. I want to make sure that we are not fighting a timeline just to get it done but really building a platform that is bigger and more robust.
Will the workshop changes potentially include expanding beyond episodic scripted?
For the directing program, absolutely. My team was already looking to develop an unscripted directing program. We also had been talking with the Discovery teams for a showrunner program on the scripted side [Editor’s note: WBD Access launched a showrunner program for mid- to senior-level writers in April] and we’d like to build something like that in unscripted as well. We really want to work with Discovery to expand even better.
Are you retaining the staff from the workshops?
The WBTV team was two people and they will not join my team, I don’t have the headcount to have them, but in addition to myself, Grace Moss now leads Pipeline Programs – she worked with me at NBC on Female Forward. We now have a bigger team at Pipeline. We have more programs but in the restructuring we will make sure we have more people.
Does the new “specific DEI focus” mean that the workshops will now be open only to applicants from historically excluded backgrounds?
We look at submissions blindly. When we read a script, no one knows whose material we’re reading – same thing when we’re viewing material. We always open submissions to everyone. We do cast our nets wide enough to make sure we are really targeting those historically underrepresented groups. We also like to partner with various organizations like NALIP and NAACP to help champion the talent they have. We will put notices out to them specifically, but they are open to everyone.
Now that the corporate DEI team instead of WBTV is assuming the costs of the workshops, will there be any change to their budget?
I don’t know what their costs were. I don’t know if they’ll be the same. As we redevelop these programs to be bigger and broader, the costs may be more expensive – but because I have a great knowledge of running these programs, they may be cheaper.
I think WBTV had the budget to pay for writers to get staffed on shows. [Editor’s note: Traditionally, networks or studios pay the staff writer salary for writers staffed from their diversity or pipeline programs, which often led to writers not being re-hired once they were no longer affiliated with the program.] I don’t have that budget, and I don’t believe in that practice. When someone got an episode [on Female Forward or the Emerging Directors programs], the show paid for it, not NBC. We will pay for directors to shadow, but not for [their episodic directing fee]nor should any company pay for a writer to be staffed.
Was there any plan to move the workshops under WBD Access prior to seeing the outcry over their cancellation yesterday – or the DGA’s declaration to fight that decision?
I’ve been championing writers and directors for over 20 years, so you can imagine how many of my calls were going crazy yesterday. It was hard for me to see that. And I have a great relationship with the DGA from the Female Forward and Emerging Directors programs – I’ve sat in those collective bargaining calls and in the diversity meetings, I was part of the diversity council. They were really happy to hear that it was going to come under our supervision.
People are saying it’s a U-turn. When I came in, the goal was to unify our disparate diversity or pipeline programs. This was always our plan: to bring together these efforts under one pipeline team. This is not really as much a U-turn as it seems.