Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
The Street
The Street
Michael Tedder

Warner Bros. Discovery Has a Problem and it May Kill 'Rick and Morty'

This week Justin Roiland, co-creator of the “Adult Swim” megahit “Rick and Morty,” was charged in Orange County, California., with one felony count of domestic battery with corporal injury and one felony count of false imprisonment by menace, violence, fraud and/or deceit.

According to the felony complaint, which was reported by Variety, the incident occurred “on or around Jan. 19, 2020, against an unnamed Jane Doe who was dating Roiland at the time.” He pleaded not guilty in 2020, and is set for a pre-trial hearing on April 27. He is currently free on a $50,000 bond, which was posted on August 13, 2020, and was arraigned on Oct. 14 of that year.

Details of the case, which Vulture notes include “interviews, footage, abuse investigation reports, medical reports, and police reports,” are currently under a protective order and have not been made public. Roiland faces up to seven years in jail if found guilty. 

“It is hard to overstate how inaccurate the recent media coverage of this situation has been,” said Roiland’s attorney, T. Edward Welbourn, in a statement to Variety. “To be clear, not only is Justin innocent but we also have every expectation that this matter is on course to be dismissed once the District Attorney’s office has completed its methodical review of the evidence. We look forward to clearing Justin’s name and helping him move forward as swiftly as possible.”

‘Rick and Morty’ Is Big Deal For Warner 

First off, it needs to be said that our thoughts must be with anyone who was hurt in this situation, as a person’s well being is always the most tantamount of concern, above what this might mean for a company’s bottom line.

Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) executives must be feeling a sense of deja vu, as last it was beset by news about the troubling and illegal behavior of actor Ezra Miller, who was arrested for trespassing, burglary and petit larceny. 

WBD executives faced a great deal of criticism for being seen as slow to address the charges against Miller, or for now recasting the actor (who uses they/them pronouns) in this year’s DC superhero film “The Flash.” Miller has not been replaced in the film, which is set to open this summer. 

This month, the actor pleaded guilty to unlawful trespassing owing to a Vermont burglary case; and accepted a plea deal to avoid jail time. As part of the plea deal, Variety notes “Miller agreed to 41 conditions, which include no drinking, random drug tests and a commitment to continue seeking mental health treatment.”

Warner Bros. actions concerning Miller ultimately look like a combination of waiting out the storm and crisis management, and CEO David Zazlav is no doubt hoping that the current situation will blow over by this summer. It was a tactic many, many people find distasteful, and it is not certain it will succeed, but it is the one the company landed on. But while the situation with Roiland is still developing, it's uncertain if the Miller playbook (whatever you might think of it) will work in this case. 

The #hottake world can discourage complexity and flatten serious issues to a tweet. But a reasonable onlooker, including a “Rick and Morty” fan, can have some concern about anyone being tried by social media, while also being disgusted at the charges, and deeply unnerved by the many insiders and journalists who attest that Roiland’s alleged toxicity was an open secret in the entertainment industry for years. 

The most fair, even-handed thing to say is, that while many parties may want this story to quietly go away, that very well may not be what happens as further details become public. 

It is hard to overstate just how popular “Rick and Morty” is, especially with teenagers and twenty somethings. If you have walked around in nearly any public space in the past five years, you have seen a picture of the mad scientist Rick Sanchez on someone's t-shirt. 

NBC News, which first broke the story, described the series as having “spawned a billion-dollar media and merchandising franchise and is one of the most popular adult television comedies.”

“Rick and Morty,” first premiered in 2014 on Adult Swim, the late-night programing block of the Warner channel Cartoon Network. Co-created by Roiland and Dan Harmon, who at the time was best known for the cult NBC sitcom “Community” (and for getting fired and rehired on “Community,”) it concerns the adventures of Rick and his nephew Morty, both voiced by Roiland, who go onto all sorts of sci-fi adventures.  

Sanchez is depicted as both an all-knowing badass and a terrible, alcoholic uncle. While the show continually points out how toxic Sanchez is, this has not stopped the character from becoming a folk hero to a certain type of internet man.  

Leon Bennett/WireImage

What Does This Mean For Warner Bros Discover?

In 2018, Cartoon Network ordered 70 new episodes of the Emmy-winning series, after its third season ended. The details of the deal were not disclosed, but at the time Deadline reported “its most recent Season 3 finale delivered Adult Swim’s highest ratings in history and helped the show claim the title of #1 comedy across all of television for 2017 with millennials. Rick and Morty also has become a multi-platform sensation not just on television, but across digital, gaming, livestreaming, retail, and fan experiences.”

“Rick and Morty” is a big deal to Warner Bros Discover. In addition to airing on Adult Swim, its first five seasons are currently available on HBO Max and via Hulu. (Roiland also created the Hulu series “Solar Opposites,” which debuted in 2020, and “Koala Man.”) As crass as it may sound to some, in a world with fewer and fewer well-known properties and more competition for subscribers than ever, WBD would doubtlessly like to keep it going as long as possible.

But that may just not be possible. 

Even if Roiland does not end up going to jail, his reputation could be so tarnished that no one will want to work with him, and Harmon may have no choice but to distance himself. (Harmon, it should be noted, publicly apologized to former “Community” writer Megan Ganz for sexual harassment in 2018, owing to what he says was obsessive and unwanted behavior during their time working on the sitcom) 

Could a version of “Rick and Morty,” work without Roiland? While Harmon might be able to continue to serve as head writer and producer, replacing the distinctive voice behind the two main characters might well prove impossible, and audiences may not accept anyone else in the roles. So no matter how much Warner might want this to go away, this month could very well spell the end for one of the company's most valuable properties, as well as an ignoble end to a former pop culture phenomena. 


Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.