Beyond Netflix: Showrunners Testing Waters With Multiple TV Overall Deals

In a hypercompetitive market, some A-list creators are shifting from  the traditional exclusive overall pact to multiple separate partnerships.

How much work is too much for a top showrunner? In a Peak TV era overflowing with choice, content creators big and small are leveraging the demand for their services with deals for exclusivity on different platforms.

On Aug. 7, Jeff Davis (Criminal Minds) inked a "broadcast-only" overall deal with the newly independent Fox Entertainment. While the pact was designed to be beneficial to the network — which says it also could sell Davis' fare to outside platforms — the showrunner is still free to sign another TV overall deal elsewhere. That practice, multiple sources tell The Hollywood Reporter, has been growing quietly for the past few years as new platforms have emerged.

Deals such as CBS TV Studios' 2015 pact with Ridley Scott's Scott Free are also for broadcast only. Now, sources say some prolific producers are shifting away from the all-encompassing exclusive overall deal that media titans like Netflix and WarnerMedia can offer such creators as Ryan Murphy and J.J. Abrams, respectively, and instead are opting for a variety of deals on four levels: broadcast, basic cable, premium cable and streaming.

And for some, a fifth level — film — is an option, too. Sources say one prolific producer with scripted series at a broadcast network and three different streaming outlets — effectively working with four totally different companies — has quietly renewed a broadcast-only deal and is closing in on an exclusive streaming pact with another outlet.

Confused? Don't be. Take Abrams, who is in final negotiations for a $500 million film and TV overall with WarnerMedia, as an example. The prolific writer, producer and director previously had two separate deals — a film pact with Viacom-owned Paramount Pictures and a TV deal with Warners. Had he not wanted to combine film and TV for the eye-popping paycheck, he instead could easily have signed five different exclusive, platform-specific deals with a broadcaster, basic cabler, premium cabler, streamer and film studio instead.

What remains to be seen is if any combination of multiple TV deals still outweighs the crazy money that the biggest media conglomerates are offering for all-in-one exclusivity. Sources note some streamers are now offering both options in a bid to draw top talent. With Disney+, HBO Max and Comcast streamers helping to diversify traditional media companies, some top-tier producers are enticed by the money and confident that they'll have the creative freedom to be able to do anything.

The latter is at least part of why showrunners like Murphy flock to Netflix, as they believe the platform has the ability to offer broadcast-level programming, documentaries and high-end scripted on top of specials and, well, any other genre. For others who may not have the brand appeal of a Shonda Rhimes and want the ability to place the right show at the right outlet, multiple deals remain a better option creatively — and possibly financially, too, as the competition keeps intensifying at every tier. That's if the producer can balance all the obligations.

As Fox Entertainment CEO Charlie Collier told reporters regarding Davis' deal: "We're hearing back from the creative community, and our phones are ringing with an interest in these deals — and others, by the way — ranging from direct talent partnerships and direct acquisition of IP."

This story first appeared in the Aug. 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.