Jeers and chants of “pay your writers” greeted Warner Bros Discovery chief David Zaslav on Sunday as he delivered Boston University’s commencement address.
Zaslav, who graduated from BU’s law school in 1985, never overtly acknowledged the WGA strike or any of the vitriol, which rippled through the outdoor event throughout his 22-minute speech. While an official picket line had been set up outside the venue, a number of students appeared to be joining in the vocal response to Zaslav’s appearance. Toward the end, he appeared to be speaking in part to his opponents when he offered a closing wish. “I hope to see all of you — and I mean all of you,” he said, pointing at the crowd for emphasis, “along the way. The journey of life. There’s nothing better.”
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According to a series of pro-WGA tweets before, during and after Zaslav’s speech, hundreds of picketers from the guild and other unions waved signs as a plane circled overhead with the blunt, all-caps message, “DAVID ZASLAV: PAY YOUR WRITERS.”
As far as the speech itself, it followed the conventional graduation-advice outline of learnings passed along from an elder, with Zaslav urging grads to recognize their strengths and weaknesses, particularly the latter. He returned to touchstones in his career, name-checking former General Electric (and NBC) CEO Jack Welch and WBD board member John Malone. “Those relationships, friendships, mentorships will enrich and propel you,” he said.
Recalling advice from Welch, he quoted the late exec as urging him to find a way to get along with others, even those with whom he has differences. (Again, the words seemed to have a lot to say about the current guild tensions, though if he grasped that interpretation, Zaslav, his eyes shaded by sunglasses, never indicated as much.) “Some people will be looking for a fight, but don’t be the one they find it with,” he said Welch had counseled. “Focus on people’s good qualities.”
On the livestream provided by the university, it was difficult to discern exactly where the chants were emanating from, though Zaslav periodically took long pauses to allow the shouting to ease up before he continued. Consistent with the pre-printed picket signs topped with “F*!# Zaslav!” the outbursts were frequently profane. Occasional cutaways to the audience on the livestream did not show any large groups showing their displeasure, though pictures shares on social media showed some graduates holding pro-WGA signs and turning their backs to the stage. Boos decidedly drowned out cheers on the audio feed.
Zaslav did not appear onstage last week during his company’s upfront presentation to ad buyers in New York, an event stripped of talent in recognition of the current labor strife. The exec did appear at a conference, however, hosted by Wall Street firm SVB MoffettNathanson, and sat for a keynote session as picketers marched in front of the hotel where the conference was held.
In an interview with CNBC earlier this month, Zaslav was asked what he thought could bring about a resolution to the labor impasse, which is about to enter its fourth week. “A love for the business and a love for working,” he replied. “We all came into this business because we love storytelling. … That’s what’s going to bring us together.”
After the speech, a company rep provided Deadline with a statement from Zaslav. “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,” he said. “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.”
Here are some of the tweets about BU’s commencement speech:
— April Wolfe (@AWolfeful) May 21, 2023
— Calvin Starnes (@CalvinStarnesOG) May 21, 2023
Zaslav loudly booed at BU commencement. Although I’m incapable of being happy, this comes close. pic.twitter.com/qtIaMJJaFb
— Shawn Wines WGA Captain (@shawnwines) May 21, 2023
Zaslav getting hit with a Pay Your Writers chant in Boston. This is so good. pic.twitter.com/00pL4ahAqZ
— Mike Scollins (@mikescollins) May 21, 2023
David Zaslav, Head Of Warner Brothers / Discovery Is Getting An Honorary Degree At Boston University – A plane towed this message circling the ceremony
“David Zaslav – Pay Your Writers”#WGA #WGAStrike #Writers #Screenwriters #screenplay pic.twitter.com/WF5p3rVgYV
— K. B. (@kbsez) May 21, 2023
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