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Layoffs Hit Topic Studios as TV Division Relocates to West Coast (EXCLUSIVE)

Matt Donnelly and Brent Lang

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A small round of layoffs has hit Topic Studios this week in the television division, insiders familiar with the company told Variety.

One of the insiders said three executives at the New York-based producer and distributor are out: senior vice president of scripted programming and Viacom alum Lisa Leingang, vice president of development Mona Panchal and scripted programming director Kate Zabinsky.

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A spokesperson for Topic Studios declined to comment on personnel, but said the scripted television division is in the process of relocating to Los Angeles. Topic operates as an arm of Pierre Omidyar’s First Look Media, and has been making cost-cutting moves since HBO vet Maria Zuckerman replaced Adam Pincus as executive vice president in May.

In late June, First Look shuttered the studio’s digital publication Topic Magazine, dedicated to nonfiction storytelling, and cut off funding to the political cartoon website the Nib. In mid-July, New York Magazine published a lengthy piece about internal culture clash at the company, saying its commitment to hard news and visual storytelling has been giving way to more commercial sensibilities.

Topic’s interests in TV are slim, counting projects like the Netflix streaming series “Losers.” Television may become a larger part of the company’s strategy as it is reportedly in talks to acquire the SVOD platform Passionflix, a streamer of romance films founded by Elon Musk’s sister, Tosca Musk.

Its interests in film are much larger. The first movie Topic ever co-financed and produced was “Spotlight,” which won the Academy Award for best picture. Since then, its credits have included Debra Granik’s “Leave No Trace”; the political documentary “Dark Money” from Kimberly Reed; Steven Soderbergh’s Panama Papers drama “The Laundromat,” starring Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas; and Cannes player “The Climb.”

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