‘It Feels Like Being Kicked to the Curb’

Little Ellen” co-creator Jennifer Skelly found out her show would be removed from HBO Max earlier this month by reading the news. These past few days, she’s witnessed dozens of other series meet the chopping block as well Warner Bros. Discovery purges the HBO streaming platform in order to reduce costs.

Not only are the first two seasons of the animated show, centered around a young Ellen DeGeneres, gone from HBO Max. In addition, 20 fully completed, unreleased episodes — comprising the next two seasons — will never be released.

More from Variety

“It’s really devastating,” Skelly tells Variety. “I’ve worked on a million things that have never seen the light of day, but it’s pretty rare that you get this far down the pipe — it’s literally done — and it’s still not going to see the light of day.”

Shortly before the 10-episode Season 3 of “Little Ellen” was set for release in June 2022, Skelly was told that Warner Bros. Discovery was planning on holding it until 2023. It wasn’t until August that the team found out both Seasons 3 and 4 would be shelved indefinitely.

Skelly continues: “In the streaming culture, I don’t know everything about how that process is done. But to me, it seems like, ‘Well you’ve got them. Just flip a switch. They’re done and they’re delivered.’ But obviously there’s so much corporate stuff going on in terms of what that means for them financially.”

One of the main reasons for this content bloodbath is so Warner Bros. Discovery can cut back on paying residuals. But when creators sign pacts with streamers, they aren’t expecting their shows to suddenly disappear. Physical releases are largely a thing of the past, and the creators 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 deciding that certain series are not worth keeping on HBO Max, these shows essentially now cease to exist.

“There were writers who had their first episodes in that back 20, and there were directors who got their first shot at directing,” Skelly says. “We had a lot of firsts on our crew, and they won’t get to see those episodes on TV and see their credit. It’s really tough.”

When asked if she thinks creators will be wary about working with Warner Bros. Discovery moving forward, Skelly says: “I don’t think people are going to avoid working with that studio or even necessarily be able to know what to ask for in the contract to protect themselves, because the parameters in a year-and-a -half are going to be different again.”

Throughout its run, “Little Ellen” faced turbulence from not only the Warner Bros. Discovery merger but also the downfall of DeGeneres, the series’ own subject.

“We were a perfect storm of many things, because the Ellen brand has also suffered in the last few years,” Skelly says. “Our show wasn’t going to be getting a ton of love anyway for that reason. We started out at the high point of her career, but by the time it was animated — because it takes forever to get something done in animation — her brand was in a really different place, and her show was ending.”

In 2020, DeGeneres’ talk show became the subject of an internal investigation by WarnerMedia following numerous accounts of workplace problems on the long-running daytime series, including sexual misconduct, racism, intimidation and the treatment of legacy staffers during the COVID-19 lockdown. DeGeneres fired three of the show’s top producers and apologized on-air for the reports of mistreatment on her show. In 2021, DeGeneres announced that the show would end after its 19th season in 2022.

“That was another thing that was entirely out of our control,” Skelly says. “There was so much turmoil around Ellen’s brand right as we were starting to move into animation, and I thought they would end up deciding not to move forward with the show. But they said, ‘Nope, we’re going forward,’ and that was so amazing. We were still able to create some beautiful work.”

As far as Skelly’s own experience working with DeGeneres, the “Little Ellen” co-creator says her “interaction with her was like less than 0%.”

“I met her once, very briefly, but everything went through Warner Bros. There wasn’t very much interaction with her company at all, and certainly not with her directly. We were really doing our own thing in our own world, which was great.”

As more shows vanish from HBO Max, Skelly can’t help but notice that the animated series seems to be taking a disproportionate hit.

“When the pandemic hit, we were working on our first episode. We weren’t even in animation yet, and we took our computers home on a Friday and met on Zoom on Monday morning. We didn’t miss a beat,” Skelly says. “Animation kept the industry going during the pandemic, and it’s getting hit so hard between Netflix and the Discovery stuff right now. It feels like an extra kick in the teeth on top of all of it.”

She continues: “We were the ones who kept going when no one could show up on set, and COVID protocols were keeping people from being able to film. But we still create content for you. And now that we’ve done it, and the pandemic is slowing down, it feels like being kicked to the curb. And that’s a big frustration among the animation community right now.”

Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitteretc Instagram.

Click here to read the full article.

Leave a Comment