With more than 500 scripted series across and a multi-platform TV universe constantly expanding with new streaming players, it was inevitable for competition over television’s top creative talent to get fierce. But the current frenzy in the marketplace with a slew of A-list writer-producers sparking bidding wars among traditional studios and SVOD platforms is pretty unprecedented with the number of producers seeking overall deals, the intensity of the fights over them and the skyrocketing prices.
The offers are in for JJ Abrams and his Bad Robot, whose next pact could fetch as much as $500 million, with the TV and film mogul yet to make a decision where his company will be based. Top comedy creator Michael Schur (The Good Place, Brooklyn Nine-Nine) has multiple studios vying for him. Also attracting a lot of interest from multiple places are Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, coming off the success of Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse, as well as The Mindy Project creator Mindy Kaling,
Just days ago, also in a very competitive situation, UCP closed a massive new four-year exclusive overall deal with Mr. Robot and Homecoming executive producer Sam Esmail, which in success could cross the nine-figure mark.
I hear also meeting with studios are Fresh Off the Boat‘s Nahnatchka Khan, Russian Doll and Broad City executive producer Amy Poehler, Daredevil creator Drew Goddard and Crazy Rich Asians director Jon Chu. Also rumored to be testing the waters soon are Westworld‘s Jonah Nolan, Modern Family‘s Steve Levitan, Shameless and Animal Kingdom‘s John Wells, This Is Us‘ Dan Fogelman and Family Guy and The Orville‘s Seth McFarlane.
The competition is driving up prices, with the bar already set sky high by the blockbuster nine-figure deals for Ryan Murphy, Shonda Rhimes and Kenya Barris at Netflix and for Greg Berlanti at Warner Bros. TV. I hear the opening salvos for marquee talent right now are firmly in the eight-nine figures. “It’s bananas,” one industry insider exclaimed.
There is a premium put on writer-producers like Berlanti, Murphy, Rhimes, Esmail, Schur and Barris who have proven that they cam originate and shepherd simultaneously multiple series, which explains the high price tags on their deals. That is in part because they have become a rare breed.
“The business has failed to develop multi-hyphenates,” one industry observer noted, pointing to super producers who also were writer-creators like Stephen J. Cannell and Aaron Spelling.
The feeding frenzy for top talent is trickling down the ranks, with experienced showrunners for hire demanding $3 million-$5 million a year for an overall deal.
“It’s a bubble,” one industry source lamented, calling the situation “extreme.”
Not everyone agrees. “It’s all cyclical,” an industry veteran said, noting that the current overall deal craze is similar to the one 20 or so years ago. Indeed, in the late 90s and early 2000s, the studios were spending like drunken sailors, with even baby writers on Friends commanding multi-million overall deals.
That wave of super rich overall pacts gradually subsided, with the 2007-08 writers strike wiping out some of the last ones made during the boom. There was a reason for that era of inflated overall deals to end as the marketplace had not dramatically changed, featuring the same Hollywood players.
The situation is very different now, with deep-pocketed Silicon Valley giants invading the TV landscape and disrupting the business with big ambitions and even bigger coffers.