Netflix helped kick off the current arms race for talent with the mega overall deal with Shonda Rhimes it made last August, followed by another gigantic pact with Ryan Murphy made earlier this year. Murphy’s five-year deal could reach $300 million, Rhimes’ is structured differently but is believed to have a similarly big upside in success.
Poaching two of the biggest creators in traditional TV had a ripple effect, with Warner Bros. TV recently stepping up with a $300+ million pact to keep its top drama producer, Greg Berlanti, and overall deal rates going up across the board, a throwback to the early 2000s when seven-figure overall pacts were the norm.
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“We feel confident about the investments we are making and we believe they are good ones,” Netflix’s VP of original content Cindy Holland told Deadline during TCA. “We believe that those producers are going to produce a lot of great content and are totally worth it.”
Judging by the volume of the output from Rhimes’ deal, Netflix could be getting their money’s worth. Eleven months after that deal was announced, Netflix recently unveiled Rhimes’ initial slate of eight series, one created by Rhimes herself. The slate runs the gamut from dramas to comedy to documentary, from contemporary U.S. to 1840 Mexican-ruled state of California to 1813 London.
And that was not a development slate that would yield a couple of shows as it may have seemed. “We expect to make that slate,” Holland said, indicating that all eight series will be produced.
That would mean that Rhimes’ five-year Netflix deal will deliver at least eight series, seven of them scripted. Rhimes’ 15-year tenure at ABC Studios resulted in nine series.
Here is what Holland had to say about when will we see the first Rhimes series on Netflix and which one that will be. “I believe we will probably see the first show in 2019 but we haven’t announced anything about that,” she said. “As to which one comes first I’m not sure; Shonda likes to have a lot of irons in the fire, and she decides what goes when.”
Murphy’s deal only commenced July 1. “We are officially just about to get started with his deal. We’ve been careful not to be talking to him too much what he might want to do but I do know that he is full of ideas,” Holland said. Murphy already has two pre-existing Netflix series, The Politician, which is now casting, and Retched.
Holland would not comment whether Netflix is bringing in another top creator-producer from traditional TV, black-ish creator Kenya Barris, who just formally exited his ABC Studios deal and is rumored to be getting a big Netflix pact. (“I can’t share anything with you today,” Holland told Deadline about Barris). But he certainly falls in the categories of creators-producers Netflix is pursuing for overall deals.
“There are three different kinds of folks that we would evaluate (for overall deals), the first being folks like Shonda and Ryan where we have a lot of the content that they have created on our service so we have a fair amount of information about the viewership of their shows and how large their fan bases are, so that makes us feel really confident about structuring large relationships with them,” Holland said.
While Netflix does not share viewership data, Rhimes’ Grey’s Anatomy and Murphy’s American Crime Story and American Horror Story are believed to have been among the SVOD service’s most popular acquired series.
“The second group would be people that we’ve already been in business with that already have been creating for us, and we’ve gotten to know and love. Really it’s formalizing a relationship that already exists, we know we want to continue to do more with them; Jenji and Shawn Levy fit into that second group.” (Weeds creator Jenji Kohan is behind Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black and GLOW, Levy is executive producer/director of Stranger Things.)
“And the third is more opportunistic as people who have deals at other places are contemplating renewal, we may have conversations with them. Also looking for new and emerging talent. There is a young writer named Lauren Morelli who was in the Orange Is the New Black writers room. We have a deal with her because when she had decided to leave OITNB and go out on her own, we knew her well enough and knew her talents well enough that we didn’t want her to go anywhere else.”
There has been a lot of anecdotes around Hollywood that every writer picked up the phone and called their agent when Rhimes’ deal was announced, asking them to try and get them a deal at Netflix. That was a hyperbole but there seems to be some truth to it.
“We are certainly getting calls (from agents) on a regular basis,” Holland said. “I think whether producers end up staying home with the studios they are already with, their representation certainly would like them to come talk to us because I think that whether they stay or go, it probably helps them.”
As to which writer/producer Netflix may have their eye on next?, “If I tell you, it will cost me more money, so I don’t think I should say anything,” Holland said, laughing.
While Netflix’s biggest series, Stranger Things, is produced by Netflix Studios, the streaming network, which launched its foray into original programming with shows from outside production companies, like House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black, continues to buy actively from other studios; only a portion of the Netflix series presented and announced at TCA yesterday are produced internally. Holland said that was by design and had some harsh words for vertical integration-minded TV networks.
“We are certainly increasing the investment in Netflix Studios, and the amount of titles we are producing in-house but I think it’’s been a pretty fatal mistake strategically for networks to be solely focused on things they can produce in-house,” she said. “We are adamant about being open minded — we want the best ideas from the best creators regardless of where there deals are.”
While considered a threat by traditional networks and studios, Netflix has been increasingly partnering with them, picking up to series pilots that didn’t make the cut elsewhere (Insatiable, All About the Washingtons) and stepping in as international distributor to help projects get series orders that otherwise may have not (Good Girls, Champions, Nightflyers).
“It shows you the power of the platform to generate passionate audiences for great programming,” Holland said to reporters following her TCA executive session. “We are making a lot of programming ourselves but we also like to support the entire industry because we are in this for our members.”