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That’s the question on many industry tongues in the wake of Ryan Murphy’s $300 million decision to uproot his production company from a traditional studio, 20th Century Fox TV, to a streamer, Netflix. The move — expected if still surprising, given his longevity at the studio and his tight relationship with its leaders — followed those of Shonda Rhimes and Jenji Kohan, formerly at ABC Studios and Lionsgate TV, respectively. And it comes as the streaming giant continues to open its pocketbook wider than any of the competition in its bid to own content, and make a significant statement.
To be sure, Netflix went on a shopping spree of this caliber when it decided to enter the stand-up comedy space. Rather than dip its toe, chief content officer Ted Sarandos began cutting eight- to nine-figure checks to recruit the biggest names in the field. And while Netflix’s paychecks ultimately came back down to reality, it wasn’t before the streaming service, with its $8 billion content budget, had lured every massive name in the market, from Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld to Dave Chappelle and Amy Schumer.
Which stands to reason, if Netflix is to do with overall deals what it did in comedy, Murphy, Rhimes and Kohan are just the beginning. The service — not unlike its deep-pocketed streaming rivals, is also ratcheting up the war for talent and sending shock waves through the decades-old broadcast studio system — will almost inevitably survey the landscape for other prolific creators.
Here are some of the likely targets as Netflix continues its hunt.
Greg Berlanti, who last year set a TV record with a whopping 11 shows in production. This season, the Supergirl, Flash and Blindspot producer has added four pilots, including a multicamera comedy at ABC, and already has business at Netflix with his Riverdale spinoff, Sabrina, having moved there from The CW. Sure, he’s not immediately available given that his Warner Bros. Television overall deal doesn’t expire until June 2020, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be high on Netflix’s wish list. “Greg might be one who you could make a case for because he’s so young and has so much ahead of him that he may want to take more control of his destiny,” one top showrunner agent says. “But Warner Bros. [with its film division and own forthcoming streaming service] has a lot of cards to play if they want to keep him around, too.” Another top insider notes that Berlanti, who unlike Rhimes and Murphy has focused largely on developing writers with roots in the broadcast studio system as an exec producer, could utilize that skill set at Netflix should the streamer want to build a stable of emerging writers.
Chuck Lorre, the co-creator of CBS’ The Big Bang Theory and Mom, and before that Two and a Half Men. Lorre, who Wednesday saw one of his two Netflix comedies get the ax, is the closest thing comedy has to a proven hit maker. Of course, he has been based at Warner Bros. for nearly two decades, and given his backend participation on his hit shows, sources say Lorre is already making Murphy-like money and values the relationships he’s built with the Peter Roth-run independent TV studio. He’s under contract until June 2020 as well.
Dick Wolf, the Universal Television-based procedural king who is also locked up through June 2020. With a slate that includes NBC veteran Law & Order: SVU and multiple Chicago-set procedurals, Wolf is considered unlikely to leave the broadcast model. (His first show outside of NBC in years is for CBS, a straight-to-series FBI drama set for next season.) Of course, while veteran producers Wolf and Lorre are already in the nine-figure range, per sources, the question could become if Universal TV and Warners, respectively, want to re-evaluate if they can remain in business at those numbers given a broadcast landscape of diminishing returns where SVOD deals and international sales are becoming increasingly valuable. “The studio businesses are set up to be in the home-run [business] — big syndication, big volume,” says one insider. “They’re not set up to do a show for Netflix on a cost-plus basis. Even though there’s profit from the beginning, they’re not enough of a home run to sustain the overhead across the board.”
Seth MacFarlane is another likely target. The multihyphenate’s deal is up in June 2019. Like Murphy, the 20th TV mainstay behind Family Guy and The Orville will have to make a decision amid the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the studio and its executive ranks given the upcoming Disney acquisition. If regulators approve the $52.4 billion sale, it’s not yet clear who would run 20th TV (or if it would merge with ABC Studios) and what the mandate will be. Sources tell THR that animation could be Netflix’s next target, which would make MacFarlane that much more desirable. He is also a proven commodity on the big screen with the Ted franchise. What’s more, MacFarlane already has a tight relationship with Scott Stuber, who was tapped in March to oversee Netflix’s film division, as the duo previously teamed on Ted and A Million Ways to Die in the West. A Netflix deal would give MacFarlane, who long has had one of the biggest deals at 20th TV, the ability to do television, animation and features.
Dan Fogelman, the This Is Us creator who remains at 20th TV, has his deal up in June 2019. The in-demand showrunner — whose most recent feature landed at Amazon, the future home of NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke — left ABC Studios for a massive deal with 20th TV, which led to the massive ratings juggernaut. Modern Family co-creators Steve Levitan and Chris Lloyd, whose hit comedy will likely end its run next season on ABC, have deals in place at 20th through July. And then there’s Empire co-creator Lee Daniels, who has a comedy pilot in the works at Fox this season; he is under contract through June.
Sums up one agent of the opportunity at Netflix that awaits top producers: “This is one of those rare moments where you can have both creative freedom and make artistic choices — and be true to yourself while being financially rewarded.”
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