WME’s Rick Rosen Reveals Dick Wolf Show Revival, Talks "Staggering" Apple Audience

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Rick Rosen (left) and The Hollywood Reporter's Matthew Belloni

At the Paley Center on Tuesday, WME's head of TV also discussed Netflix's 'Friends' deal and 'Malcolm in the Middle' with The Hollywood Reporter's Matthew Belloni.

A wide range of Hollywood royalty and budding talent attended Tuesday night’s Paley Center Dialogue with William Morris Endeavor’s Rick Rosen. The event was the final installment in this year’s series, which featured industry leaders at the studio and agency level.

Rene Reyes, the executive in charge of production at the Paley Center, introduced Rosen along with The Hollywood Reporter’s editorial director Matthew Belloni. “Having been on the board for years, Rick is a big part of our organization,” Reyes shared at the pre-event reception. “This is actually the first time I’ve gotten him onstage.”

Belloni covered a wide range of topics, starting with the sustainability of Netflix and its mind-blowing $70 million-$80 million deal extension of the Friends sitcom streaming rights for one year. “This shows you a couple of things,” Rosen said. “One, the AT&T/Time Warner streaming service, which owns Friends, will not be up and running for at least a year. And the notion of $100 million is a lot of money to turn down.”

Belloni pointed out that Friends is already on another streaming service, in addition to being syndicated on several cable stations.

“The algorithms that Netflix uses to determine what’s valuable to them and who watches what programs — those algorithms said that this was clearly worth it to them,” Rosen countered.

In terms of the sustainability of Netflix, Rosen believes that at some point the streaming giant will have to show a profit. “Of course, they could raise the subscription rate by a dollar and they wouldn’t have to worry about it anymore,” he added.

Rosen also discussed issues surrounding Apple’s upcoming streaming platform, saying that there’s no way to market all the shows that they’ve purchased. Regarding the potential for Apple to charge a subscription fee, he said that his current understanding is that they won’t charge a subscription fee and it will be available to all Apple users.

“So you buy an Apple product and you get a Reese Witherspoon show?” Belloni asked.

Rosen recalled Apple’s initial pitch to his clients: “Everyone that buys an iPhone or Apple product, they have the Apple TV app. Right now, that’s a billion people, and it’s a staggering number,” the agent said.

When discussing the TV show revival business, Rosen had a less clear answer on that landscape. “Well, the show has to be well-written, like any great television show,” he said. “Will & Grace did great for a while, but the ratings have slumped. It just depends on the type of show.”

Rosen also dropped the surprise announcement that a revival of a hit Dick Wolf series was in the works after a multiple-network bidding war. “It’s the type of franchise that you can redo, and you don’t necessarily have to use the same cast,” he said. “That will be announced shortly.”

Rosen further said that he was extremely proud of his role in negotiating the revival of Tim Allen’s Last Man Standing. After one year off the air, the comedy moved from ABC to Fox. “It took guts by Dana Walden at Fox to take on a show that was going into its fifth year and had also been off the air for a year,” he pointed out. “The show is doing fantastic now and will be on for many more years.”

Linwood Boomer, who created the long-running hit series Malcolm in the Middle, was in the audience to support Rosen, his friend and longtime agent. 

Rosen highlighted Boomer’s presence in the audience, recalling how he wasn’t sold on Boomer’s initial pitch for Malcolm: “He’s telling me all these details, and I’m thinking to myself, 'There's no single-camera comedies on the air. You can’t break the fourth wall, you can’t have a kid lead.' I said, ‘I feel like if we go and pitch this, they won’t even validate our parking.’” That line earned the biggest laugh of the night.

Rosen then described how he was blown away by Boomer’s finished pilot script. “A month later, we had this phenomenal script, but none of the networks wanted it,” he said. “Every network said the writing was fantastic, but they wouldn’t make it.”

The show was ultimately sold to what was then UPN. The network moved the series into development, but “the situation there left us a little queasy,” Rosen recalled.

When Fox’s incoming network head read Boomer’s script, he called Rosen the next day with an offer. “The executive said, ‘If you can get this out of UPN, I’ll order it with no notes,’” Rosen recalled. “I went to my friend at UPN and basically got down on my hands and knees and begged him. He did us the solid of a lifetime.”