As the novel coronavirus continues to have a dramatic impact on the global economy, TV studios have begun to terminate deals as a response to their newfound economic uncertainty.
Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that Marvel has terminated overall deals with TV showrunners Steve Lightfoot (The Punisher) and Paul Zbyszewski (Helstrom). The pacts are believed to be some of the first to be force majeured amid the industry-wide production shutdown as studios of all sizes begin to tighten their respective belts. Sources say the duo’s respective deals were with Marvel and not Disney-owned ABC Studios, which serves as the studio on the company’s comic book series.
Marvel declined comment.
Lightfoot most recently served as showrunner on Netflix’s Marvel drama The Punisher, which was canceled a year ago after a two-season run. Zbyszewski serves as showrunner on the comic book powerhouse’s forthcoming Hulu live-action drama series Helstrom, which was able to wrap physical production before the industry-wide shutdown. Sources note Zbyszewski will wrap up postproduction work on the ABC Signature Studios- and Marvel-produced Helstrom, starring Tom Austen. The show was one of two live-action dramas that Disney-backed streamer Hulu picked up straight to series last May. (The second, Ghost Rider, was scrapped in September.)
While Lightfoot had a brief time with Marvel working on The Punisher, Zbyszewski’s time with the company dates back to ABC’s Agents of SHIELD. The latter was Marvel’s first-ever live-action scripted original. SHIELD, which returns for its final season next month, was, like Helstrom, developed by former Marvel TV head Jeph Loeb. Marvel’s TV unit was folded into the Marvel Studios division overseen by features kingpin Kevin Feige. Of Loeb’s previous Marvel TV efforts, only Helstrom and two animated shows, MODOK and Hit Monkey, remain. Feige’s TV push for Marvel has focused instead on spinoffs of MCU features for streamer Disney+.
The decision to terminate Zbyszewski and Lightfoot’s deals arrives as many industry watchdogs are anticipating studios big and small to begin invoking the force majeure clause in multiple pacts. A force majeure clause typically allows studios increased latitude to make decisions that are motivated by an unforeseeable incident, such as the novel coronavirus. Many in the industry were bracing for a wave of overall deals to be force majeured if the Writers Guild and studios failed to reach a new agreement. During the work stoppage amid the 2007-08 writers’ strike, studios terminated a number of contracts for their less prolific writers.
The global coronavirus pandemic has hit the entertainment industry hard, with hundreds of thousands in various departments among the millions unemployed. Marvel, for example, has seen production on its programming delayed and multimillion-dollar movies pushed from their release dates as theaters across the globe largely remain closed.