Co-creator of “Little Ellen” on HBO Max Removing Show, despite 20 unreleased episodes: “It feels like being thrown on the sidewalk”

“Little Ellen” co-creator Jennifer Skelly found out her show would be removed from HBO Max earlier this month while reading the news. In recent days, it has seen dozens of other series meet the ax as Warner Bros. Discovery is purging the HBO streaming platform to cut costs.

Not only are the first two seasons of the animated series centered around a young Ellen DeGeneres, gone from HBO Max. Additionally, 20 completely finished and never-before-seen episodes – including the next two seasons – will never be released.

“It’s really devastating,” says Skelly Variety. “I’ve worked on a million things that never saw the light of day, but it’s pretty rare that you go that far down the pipe – it’s literally done – and it still won’t see the light of the day.”

Shortly before all 10 episodes of “Little Ellen” season 3 were released in June 2022, Skelly learned that Warner Bros. Discovery planned to run it until 2023. It wasn’t until August that the team found out about the two seasons. 3 and 4 would be set aside indefinitely.

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

One of the main reasons for this content bloodbath is that Warner Bros. Discovery may reduce the residual 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 the creators don’t own the distribution rights to their work, meaning the only way people can watch many recently shelved series is to pirate them illegally. Following the decision by Warner Bros. Discovery that some series aren’t worth keeping on HBO Max, those shows now cease to exist.

“There were screenwriters who had their first episodes in that 20-year back, and there were directors who had their first chance to direct,” Skelly says. “We had a lot of firsts on our team, and they won’t see those episodes on TV and get their credit. It’s really difficult.

When asked if she thought creators would be wary of working with Warner Bros. Discovery going forward, Skelly said, “I don’t think people are going to avoid working with this studio or even necessarily be able to figure out what to ask for in the contract to protect themselves, because the parameters in a year and a half are still going to be different.

Throughout its run, “Little Ellen” has faced not only the Warner Bros. Discovery, but also to the downfall of DeGeneres, the show’s own subject.

“We were a perfect storm of a lot of things, because the Ellen brand has also suffered over the past few years,” Skelly says. “Our show wasn’t going to get a ton of love anyway for that reason. We started at the height of its career, but by the time it was animated – because it takes forever to do something in the animation – his mark was in a really different place, and his show was ending.

In 2020, DeGeneres’ talk show was the subject of an internal investigation by WarnerMedia following numerous accounts of workplace issues on the long-running daytime series, including sexual misconduct, racism , bullying and treatment of former employees during the COVID-19 lockdown. DeGeneres fired three of the show’s top producers and apologized on air for reports of abuse 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 fuss around Ellen’s brand as we started moving into animation, and I thought they would eventually decide not to go ahead with the show. But they said, ‘No, we’re moving on’, and it was so amazing. We were still able to create beautiful works.

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

“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 awesome.

As more and more shows disappear from HBO Max, Skelly can’t help but notice that anime series seem to be taking a disproportionate hit.

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

She continues, “We were the ones who carried on when no one could show up on set, and COVID protocols prevented people from being able to film. But we still created content for you. And now that we’ve done it, and the pandemic is slowing down, I feel like I’ve been kicked out. And that’s a big frustration among the animation community right now.

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