Netflix Backs Off Awarding Producer Credits to Executives Amid Backlash

Illustration by: Matt Collins

With frustrations building in the creative community, the streaming service has quietly softened its unusual crediting practice: "There is a difference between executive producers and network executives."

When the credits flash during the first eight episodes of Stranger Things, a name sandwiched somewhere between star Millie Bobby Brown and showrunners Matt and Ross Duffer is neither a writer nor a director, but Netflix's own Cindy Holland.

The vp original series also has appeared in the credit scroll on Sense8, Narcos and several Marvel series, just as comedy and documentary head Lisa Nishimura's name pops up at the end of Hannah Gadsby's Nanette and their boss, chief content officer Ted Sarandos, is a credited producer on films including Bright and Mudbound.

The streaming giant's 130 million subscribers might pay these names no mention, but a subset of Hollywood producers who aren't used to sharing credits with executives have been irked by the habit. Some have logged complaints with the Producers Guild, say sources, others with their reps — tactics that are easier than registering those frustrations directly with the streaming giant, explains one, for fear "of biting the hand that feeds them." While Netflix declined to comment for this story, the company is said to be quietly backing away from the practice.

"I don't have a problem with Netflix or any other distributor's executives taking producer credits if they fulfilled the role," says Anonymous Content's Richard Brown, a producer on Netflix's Chris Pine film Outlaw King (Nov. 7). "The thing I have a problem with is when people get the credit but they didn't do the job — and you see it a lot."

Veteran showrunner and recent Writers Guild board member Glen Mazzara echoes those concerns. "I'm always suspicious when somebody wants a credit," he says, adding that he's very careful about who is considered a part of his producing team. "It’s very tricky because for a lot of non-writing producers who have their reputation to go on, [the practice] could hurt their livelihood, so of course they would feel threatened by it." Even a Netflix executive acknowledges that the habit can be "disrespectful to the producers."

There's plenty of confusion around how and to whom such titles are awarded at Netflix, with one insider admitting that the lack of consistency across its divisions is "baffling." The strategy, which dates to 2013's Hemlock Grove, was implemented initially as a way to help Netflix beef up its brand in its formative days. And though few in town are aware of any recent policy change, the streamer began pulling back, starting with scripted fare, last summer — previously locked credits, however, will continue to roll out on several projects.

Sources within the company say the practice had become too unwieldy and increasingly unnecessary as the streamer gained traction and increased clout. Still, others likely will wonder if the decision was influenced in part by the response in the creative community. For many producers, who would only agree to speak anonymously for fear of angering a powerful buyer, the con­cern in padding the scroll is that the traditional producer role gets devaluated in the process.

"Is Ted on the set of these films? Is Cindy staying up until 1 o'clock in the morning shooting? Have they put the cast and crew together?" vents one top producer who has a project at Netflix. "What they've done is provide opportunity [in the form of] a platform, financing and guidance. That's what executives do."

While it's hardly customary, particularly in the U.S. scripted arena, Netflix is not the first outlet to credit its executives as producers. It historically has happened in the documentary division at the streamer's chief rival, HBO, and it still occurs at several reality-focused cable networks like A&E. Certain Viacom networks also tend to list executives who are especially hands-on as producers or, as is more common in the U.K., executives-in-charge. And, like Netflix, Hulu experimented with the practice early on (i.e. 2014's Deadbeat).

To the delight and relief of the producing community, a much harder line has been drawn in the awards space. In fact, per a well-placed source, Sarandos has tried and failed to get a producers mark — the necessary stamp from the PGA for Academy Award eligibility — on some of the service's theatrical releases, as the late Paramount chairman Brad Grey did (unsuccessfully) on the 2006 best picture winner The Departed. "[Netflix] already has all the money in the world," snarks a seasoned producer. "They really need the award, too?" Breaking into the Emmy race hasn't proved any easier. The TV Academy deems suits from Netflix and elsewhere (save former and long-running HBO doc maven Sheila Nevins) ineligible for awards consideration. Says a TV Academy rep, "There is a difference between executive producers and network executives."

This story first appeared in the Sept. 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.