Netflix Restructures as Bela Bajaria Streamlines Comedy, Drama and Overall Deal Leadership

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Jessica Chou/Netflix

Less than two months into her purview as vp global television, Bela Bajaria is reorganizing the executive ranks at Netflix.

Bajaria's global management team will break down many of the pre-existing silos that existed under former vp originals Cindy Holland and consolidates many of the divisions into a more streamlined structure built around drama, comedy, event series, unscripted and overall deals. A search is under way for a new head of U.S. series and a new head of comedy.

Brian Wright, formerly vp young adult and family content, will head overall deals for original series. His YA/family unit will be consolidated into the drama and comedy teams. (The young adult genre remains a top priority for the streamer). Wright has worked closely with many of the streamer's top producers with rich overall deals at the streamer, including Ryan Murphy and Stranger Things creators the Duffer brothers.

Peter Friedlander, who was vp genre drama, will head a new Spectacle/Event TV division. Having developed Black Mirror and the upcoming Three-Body Problem from the Game of Thrones creators, he will be focused on high-concept (and big-budget) originals.

Jinny Howe, who previously ran the prestige drama unit under Nina Wolarsky and Channing Dungey, has been named head of drama development. Renate Radford, who was a director on Wright's YA team, has been named head of drama, current programming. Together, Howe and Radford will lead drama series across genres, including crime, thriller, YA, relationship and character driven.

Andy Weil will serve as the interim lead of comedy. A search is under way for a new head of comedy. Jane Wiseman most recently oversaw comedy for Netflix and was among the four high-ranking women who departed the streamer in the past two months. Brandon Reigg will continue to serve as head of unscripted.

Wright, Friedlander, Howe, Radford, Reigg and Weil (and the eventual new comedy topper) will, for now, report to Bajaria, who is also searching for a new head of U.S. series. Once that executive is hired, the U.S. division leaders will then report to that person. (It's worth noting that Holland previously oversaw all U.S. originals and was in on every meeting and read every script. Holland was ousted last month as Bajaria climbed the ladder.) Fewer than 10 lower-level U.S.-based employees were laid off as part of the restructuring. Sources say Bajaria will address staff in a town hall this week about all of the changes.

"I evaluated the needs of the business right now in this moment and put a structure in place that reflects that, and builds a great foundation for us moving forward," Bajaria told THR in a brief email interview. "What I wanted to do was set up the team to be creator-friendly and to reflect how TV is made. ... On the U.S. side, I’ve focused on streamlining to eliminate silos and make it really clear, both internally and to creators, where our priorities are: drama, comedy and unscripted. And we’re establishing a new team dedicated to working with our creators with overall deals to be led by Brian Wright."

The changes position Netflix's executive structure more like a traditional network and studio, with clear heads of divisions at a time when many industry insiders were unclear on just which executives to pitch what projects. The streamer previously featured silos focused on genre programming, prestige dramas, character-driven dramedies/soaps, YA/family fare and live-action comedies, among others.

Bajaria, who arrived at Netflix in late 2016 after being pushed out as president of Universal TV (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), has been rumored to be reshaping her executive ranks over the past few weeks after Netflix shocked the industry and pushed out Holland last month. Holland had been the architect of Netflix's originals, helping to transform the company from its DVDs-by-mail days.

A string of high-level executive departures followed Bajaria's rise to the top. Dungey, the vp original dramas who previously reported to Holland, decamped to take the top job at Warner Bros. TV Group. Nina Wolarsky, vp character-driven drama/dramedy and soaps, opted to leave the streamer next month after an eight-year run when her job function changed. Both Dungey and Wolarsky had overseen such overall deals including Shonda Rhimes, The Crown creator Peter Morgan and Jenji Kohan, among others. Comedy head Jane Wiseman also departed following a six-year run with the streamer, for whom she developed Grace and Frankie, Dead to Me and the successful adult animation slate.

On the international side, meanwhile, Larry Tanz has been named head of Europe, Middle East and Africa local language originals. Annie Mensah remains head of U.K. series. Minyoung Kim, head of Korean originals, has added Southeast Asia and AZ/NZ to her duties. John Derderian, vp Japan/Hong Kong/Taiwan and anime content, and Monika Shergill, vp India content, will continue to report to Bajaria. Francisco Ramos remains vp Latin America originals and film. Kelly Luegenbiehl, formerly head of EMEA local language, has been tapped head of global franchises after she oversaw the launch of The Witcher. The new role will also see her expand The Witcher franchise, which already has a prequel spinoff in the works.

Netflix is the latest entertainment behemoth to restructure its executive ranks as media companies continue to feel pinched by the global pandemic. While Netflix received a subscriber bump in the beginning of the pandemic, its most recent subscriber gains fell short of Wall Street expectations. The streamer, under Bajaria, has been busy reviewing its slate and trimming originals based on what's possible, both logistically and financially, during the pandemic. To that end, Netflix reversed course on renewals for GLOW, The Society and I Am Not Okay With This while also abandoning plans for a big-budget take on Mark Millar's comic The Magic Order. Such "un-renewals" are becoming commonplace across broadcast and cable networks as well as streamers as media companies across the spectrum reassess their portfolios amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Sources say Bajaria's promotion was the result of a desire on recently elevated co-CEO Ted Sarandos' part to implement a clear hierarchy at the streamer as well as increase its focus on global expansion. While Holland was a veteran of Netflix's culture, Bajaria is a 20-year veteran of the traditional studio system who built up her skillset at the streamer in such key growth areas as TV and film licensing from U.S. studios and co-productions from U.S. networks to local-language originals in nearly all of Netflix's international markets. She spent the past four years building up an impressive track record of key acquisitions (You, All American) and global content (The Witcher, Money Heist). That experience gave Bajaria the edge over Holland as Netflix charts its global expansion at a time when other media giants are looking to carve out their own international footprints.