The Rehearsal, Reality TV, & Warner Bros. Discovery with J. D. Connor & Olivia Stowell


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In the same month the merger creating Warner Bros Discovery was finalized, one of the new conglomerate’s subsidiaries, HBO, announced a forthcoming series, run by Nathan Fielder, titled The Rehearsal. The series actually began airing the following Summer, in the midst of tumult at the parent company, epitomized by the unexpected shelving of a big-budget film, Batgirl, and an awkward presentation by WB Discovery CEO, David Zaslov, during a second quarter earnings call. In addition to vaguely promising more programming for “middle America,” Zaslov’s presentation included a slide that divided the company’s streaming services according to gender (see selections from the slide deck below), a specious claim which drew widespread criticism.

In this episode of The American Vandal Podcast, the second part of our “HBO, From Pulp To Prestige” series, Matt Seybold discusses The Rehearsal as both a product within and a reflection of the new conglomerate with two TV Studies scholars.

J. D. Connor is Associate Professor of Cinema & Media Studies at University of Southern California. He is the author of Hollywood Math & Aftermath: The Economic Image & The Digital Recession (Bloomsbury, 2018) and The Studios After The Studios: Neoclassical Hollywood, 1970-2010 (Stanford UP, 2015), as well as numerous essays on film and television, many of them published by Los Angeles Review of Books or Post45. [Twitter: @jdconnor]

Olivia Stowell is a PhD student in Communication & Media at the University of Michigan. She was recently a guest on the High Theory Podcast, discussing “Reality TV.” Recent publications include a co-edited cluster on Dark Academia for Post45, an essay about Top Chef in Television & New Media, and a meditation on Adriana La Cerva’s abs in The Sopranos for Avidly. [Twitter: @oliviastowell]

Thanks again to The Snarlin’ Yarns for providing this season’s theme song, “Don’t Go Fishing.”


(A Small Selection of) Series Discussed (HBO & Otherwise)


Episode Bibliography:

Sara Ahmed, “Affective Economies” (Social Text, Summer 2004)

Mark Andrejevic, Reality TV: The Work of Being Watched (Rowan & Littlefield, 2003)

Mark Andrejevic & Sarah Childress, “We Are All ‘Lab Rats’ Online” (PBS Frontline, 6.27.2013)

Roland Barthes, “The Reality Effect” (1984) in The Rustle of Language (Farrar, Strauss, & Giroux, 1986)

Jérôme Bourdon, “Self-Despotism: Reality Television & the New Subject of Politics” (Framework, Spring 2008)

Bertolt Brecht, Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic [Translated by John Willett] (Macmillan, 1964)

Bertolt Brecht, “On Chinese Acting” [Translated by Eric Bentley] (Tulane Drama Review, September 1961)

John Caldwell, Televisuality: Style, Crisis, & Authority in American Television (Rutger UP, 1995)

Jerome Christensen, America’s Corporate Art: The Studio Authorship of Hollywood Motion Pictures (Stanford UP, 2012)

Jerome Christensen, “Taking It to the Next Level: You’ve Got Mail, Havholm & Sandifer” (Critical Inquiry, Autumn 2003)

Jerome Christensen, “The Time Warner Conspiracy: JFK, Batman, & the Manager Theory of Hollywood Film” (Critical Inquiry, Spring 2002)

J. D. Connor, Hollywood Math & Aftermath: The Economic Image & The Digital Recession (Bloomsbury, 2018)

J. D. Connor, The Studios After The Studios: Neoclassical Hollywood, 1970-2010 (Stanford UP, 2015)

J. D. Connor, “+” (Los Angeles Review of Books, 6.1.2019)

June Deery, Reality TV (Polity, 2015)

Nick Drnaso, Acting Class (Granta, 2022)

Nathan Fielder & Benny Safdie, The Curse (Showtime, 2023)

Jesse David Fox, Good One: A Podcast About Jokes (Vulture, 2017-Present)

Francis Fukuyama, The End of History & The Last Man (Free Press, 1992)

Mark Greif, “The Reality of Reality Television” (n+1, Fall 2005)

John Herrman, “The Next Internet is TV” (The Awl, 2.5.2015)

Fredric Jameson, Brecht & Method (Verso, 1998)

Deborah Jaramillo, “The Family Racket: AOL TimeWarner, HBO, The Sopranos, & The Construction of a Quality Brand” (Journal of Communication Inquiry, January 2002)

Immanuel Kant, Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (1783)

Adam Manno, “Laid-Off HBOMax Execs Reveal Warner Bros. Discovery Is Killing Off Diversity & Courting ‘Middle America’” (Daily Beast, 8.25.2022)

James A. Miller, Tinderbox: HBO’s Ruthless Pursuit of New Frontiers (Macmillan, 2021)

Laurie Ouellette, “Take Responsibility For Yourself’: Judge Judy & the Neoliberal Citizen” in Reality TV: Remaking Television Culture (NYU Press, 2004)

Laurie Ouellette & James Hay, Better Living Through Reality TV: Television & Post-Welfare Citizenship (Blackwell, 2008)

Patrick Parsons, Blue Skies: A History of Cable Television (Temple UP, 2008)

James Poniewozik, Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television, & The Fracturing of America (Liveright, 2019)

Rick Porter, “Robert Downey Jr. to Produce, Co-Star in ‘The Sympathizer’ Drama at HBO” (Hollywood Reporter, 7.15.2021)

Barbara Schmidt, “Things a Scotsman Wants to Know’: Mark Twain’s Last Hoax?” (TwainQuotes, 2012)

Olivia Stowell, “There’s Certainly A Lot of History Here, But We’re Here To Roast Oysters: Afterlives of Trans-Atlantic Exchange in Top Chef: Charleston (Television & New Media, January 2022)

Olivia Stowell, “Adriana’s Abs & The Return of Low-Rise Jeans” (Avidly, 7.8.2021)

Olivia Stowell & Saronik Bosu, “Reality TV” (High Theory, 8.23.2022)

Michael Szalay, “Streaming Enthusiasm & The Industrious Family Drama” (Los Angeles Review of Books, 6.23.2021)

Michael Szalay, “Melodrama & Narrative Stagnation in Quality TV” (Theory & Event, April 2019)

Michael Szalay, “The Real Home of Capitalism’: The AOL Time Warner Merger & Capital Flight” in Routledge Companion to Literature & Economics (2018)

Michael Szalay, “The Author as Executive Producer” in Neoliberalism & Contemporary Literary Culture (Johns Hopkins UP, 2017)

Michael Szalay & Catherine Fisk, “Story Work: Non-Proprietary Autonomy & Contemporary Television Writing” (Television & New Media, 2017)

Michael Szalay, “Pimps & Pied Pipers: Quality Television in the Age of its Direct Delivery” (Journal of American Studies, November 2015)

Michael Szalay, “HBO’s Flexible Gold” (Representations, Spring 2014)

Michael Szalay, “The Writer as Producer” in Mad Men, Mad World (Duke UP, 2013)

Michael Szalay, “The Incorporation Artist” (Los Angeles Review of Books, 7.10.2012)

David Zaslov & J. B. Parrette, “Warner Brothers Discovery Second Quarter 2022 Earnings Call” (Warner Bros. Discovery, August 2022)