Ava DuVernay Signs Massive Overall Deal With Warner Bros. TV

Ava DuVernay attends the 2018 Vanity Fair Oscar Party - Getty-H 2018
J. Merritt/Getty Images

Ava DuVernay is putting down roots. 

The Emmy-winning and Oscar-nominated writer, producer and director has signed what sources say is a massive multiyear overall deal with Warner Bros. Television. Under the pact, DuVernay will develop new projects for the studio, including drama, comedy, longform and event series, documentaries, digital content and more for platforms including broadcast, basic and premium cable, as well as streaming and on-demand platforms. 

The pact extends DuVernay's relationship with Warner Bros. TV, for whom she executive produces OWN's Queen Sugar and CBS' midseason drama The Red Line. Sources estimate the deal to be worth in the high eight-figure range. 

“Ava DuVernay is one of the leading lights in our industry, a brilliantly talented writer, producer, director and entrepreneur whose ability to inspire with her art is exceeded only by her ability to entertain. We have had the great pleasure of working with her on Queen Sugar and The Red Line, and we are extremely excited about the new stories she has to tell,” WBTV chief content officer Peter Roth said Tuesday in a release announcing the news. 

The deal, which is set to go into effect in January, is the first studio overall for DuVernay and her Forward Movement production company. Warners and DuVernay first went into business in 2015 when the studio's cable-focused arm, Warner Horizon TV, signed on to produce Queen Sugar, which was created by the multihyphenate. The series, exec produced by DuVernay and Oprah Winfrey, was renewed before its series premiere and will enter its fourth season in 2019. She next will team with studio-based Greg Berlanti for the CBS midseason racial drama The Red Line, starring Noah Wyle in his return to series-regular broadcast television. 

"I’ve had nothing but beautiful experiences working with Peter Roth, Susan Rovner and Brett Paul," said DuVernay. "They love and support artists in wonderful and nourishing ways. They work within a traditional studio headed by Kevin Tsujihara that is stirring with untraditional energy and fresh protocols for intentional, inclusive image-making. Warner Bros. is a terrific partner about matters of visibility and belonging for all kinds and cultures of people, which is our mission at Forward Movement. I couldn’t be happier to call Warner Bros. TV my production home."

With DuVernay, Warners has signed a vocal advocate of inclusion. She launched an initiative with Queen Sugar when she insisted on assembling an all-female directing team for every season of the series. DuVernay also stepped down as showrunner in a bid to create new opportunities for others who have never held the position before. The drama features a new first-time showrunner every season. 

DuVernay becomes the latest "get" for Warners, which earlier this year saw TV's most prolific producer — Berlanti, who has a record 14 series currently in the works — extend his overall deal in a pact worth $400 million, per sources. The deal is the latest massive payday for a top creator and producer following Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy's defections from the broadcast-focused studio system. Both Rhimes (Grey's Anatomy) and Murphy (Glee) departed ABC Studios and 20th Century Fox TV, respectively, for nine-figure overall deals with Netflix. With the streaming giant's entry into the overall deal space, multiple creators have taken a hard look at their overall deals, with many, like Black-ish creator Kenya Barris (who moved to Netflix), scoring new, rich deals elsewhere.
DuVernay next has the Netflix miniseries Central Park Five and a comedy based on the life of former NFL star and activist Colin Kaepernick in the works. Her documentary, 13th, earned Emmy wins for best documentary and writing for nonfiction programming. She is repped by CAA and Del Shaw.