Kenny Ortega Inks Netflix Overall Deal

The 'High School Musical' grad has also set up his first TV series and movie as the streamer continues to pursue Disney Channel talent.
Courtesy of Netflix

Kenny Ortega, the director of Disney Channel franchises High School Musical and Descendants, is moving to Netflix.

The streaming giant has a multiple-year overall deal with Ortega and identified the first two projects the producer, director and choreographer will tackle: film Auntie Claus (based on the books) and TV series Julie and the Phantoms (based on the Brazilian show of the same name).

While Ortega did not have an overall deal with Disney Channel, he was considered the youth-focused cable network's secret weapon behind cash-cow franchises Descendants and High School Musical, each of which has spawned three TV movies (and a concert special).

Ortega becomes the latest talent to be plucked away from Disney Channel, joining Peabody-winning kids programming creator Chris Nee (fellow mega-hit franchises Doc McStuffins and Vampirina) and Alex Hirsch (Gravity Falls), who originally departed for an overall deal at Fox before signing what sources say was a rich exclusive pact with Netflix in August as part of his larger goal of creating adult animated series. (Neither Nee nor Hirsch had an overall with Disney at the time of their departures.) Ortega should be considered yet another big loss for Disney Channel, which in the past few months has been aggressive in signing its top creators to overall deals as it goes on the defensive against billion-dollar spender Netflix and its efforts to be a hub for children's programming, too.

"Throughout the course of his career, Kenny Ortega has inspired generations of artists and audiences alike. That he has chosen to make Netflix his creative home to work on both feature films and series is thrilling. We can’t wait to see what he brings to Netflix to delight musical-loving families and audiences around the globe." Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos said.

Film Auntie Claus is a musical based on the book series of the same name by Elise Primavera. It revolves around a young girl determined to get to the bottom of why her eccentric, Christmas-loving Aunt disappears every Christmas. It will be adapted by Tiffany Paulsen (Holidate, Nancy Drew), with Orega directing and producing.

TV entry Julie and the Phantoms is a musical comedy series in development based on an International Emmy Award-nominated Brazilian television series. Julie is a teenage girl who finds her passion for music and life with the help of a high-concept band of three teen boys (The Phantoms) who have been dead for 25 years. Julie, in turn, helps them become the band they were never able to be. Dan Cross and David Hoge (The Thundermans, Pair of Kings) will serve as showrunners and executive producers on the series, with George Salinas and Jaime Aymerich of Crossover Entertainment, as well as Michel Tikhomiroff and Joao Daniel of Mixer Entertainment. Jason La Padura and Natalie Hart (High School Musical and Descendants trilogies) are now casting the titular roles. Ortega will direct and produce as well.

"As a fan of Netflix and their dynamic range of high-quality content, I
 am thrilled to begin a creative relationship with the company. I'm super excited about the projects we already have in development and the shared enthusiasm I feel from the company. I look forward to this new Netflix collaboration with the highest hopes," Ortega said.

Truman Alfaro will serve as Ortega's development exec.

Ortega's credits include directing and providing choreography for 1992's Newsies, the original Dirty Dancing, Pretty in Pink, St. Elmo's Fire and Xanadu. He earned an Emmy for choreographing High School Musical. He's also directed and choreographed music videos for the likes of Madonna and Cher, among others. He's repped by Paradigm and Hansen Jacobson.

In a larger sense, the relationship between Netflix and Disney has continued to remain contentious, with the streamer poaching top showrunners and executives and Disney pulling much of its licensed content as it prepares to launch its own streaming service this year.