EXCLUSIVE: Sam Esmail is staying at Universal Content Productions (fka Universal Cable Productions) with a huge new four-year exclusive overall deal. In a competitive situation, UCP has re-signed the Mr. Robot and Homecoming executive producer and his Esmail Corp in a pact that ranks in the very top tier for creators/showrunners.
No terms are being disclosed but I hear the deal is the biggest ever for UCP, paying Esmail in the $20-25 million range per year, as the studio stepped up in a big way to keep its leading writer-producer-director. In addition to the big financial offer, key for Esmail’s decision to stay at UCP was his long-standing relationship with the company, headed by Dawn Olmstead, and its parent NBCUniversal, as well as the opportunity to produce premium content for any linear networks and streaming platforms, including the recently announced NBCU OTT service. It will be run by Bonnie Hammer who oversaw NBCU’s cable networks and UCP in her previous role.
“Sam is a visionary creator who inspires us on a daily basis,” said Olmstead, President, UCP and Wilshire Studios. “He’s a risk taker, a ground-breaker and a hit maker. On top of all of this, he is a great person, and we are beyond excited to continue this collaboration.”
Added Hammer, Chairman, Direct to Consumer and Digital Enterprises, “There are no limits to what we plan to build with Sam and Esmail Corp in the future.”
Esmail currently executive produces three series for UCP: Mr. Robot, which he created, and the just-ordered anthology Briarpatch, starring Rosario Dawson — both for USA Network — as well as Amazon’s Homecoming, whose first season was headlined by Julia Roberts. Additionally, he has a number of series in development at the studio, including two high-profile limited series, Metropolis, based on Fritz Lang’s 1927 science fiction classic, and Angelyne, starring his wife, Emmy Rossum.
“As a creator, nothing is more important to me than the integrity of a story and staying true to the vision I’ve created,” Esmail said. “Working with UCP has always given me the opportunity to do so, while pushing the boundaries of traditional storytelling. The studio has been my home for the past four years, and I’m thrilled to continue this supportive and trusted partnership, while having the unique opportunity to create for every possible platform across the industry.”
In the current arms race for talent, there is a premium put on writer-producers like Esmail who can originate and run simultaneously multiple series, which explains the interest in him from multiple places and the high price tag on his deal. For prolific creators/producers, incumbent studios often have the advantage of being able to sweeten their overall deal offers with advances toward the producers’ backend.
Esmail is a homegrown NBCU TV talent. In his first foray into television, he wrote a spec for a brooding hacker drama, which was picked up by USA and became the commercial and critical hit Mr. Robot, starring Rami Malek and Christian Slater, which earned both actors major awards recognition. In a rare feat, Esmail, a complete novice in TV, was entrusted by USA and UCP with running his show by himself right off the bat and with directing most of the episodes. In another major vote of confidence, UCP signed Esmail into a seven-figure overall deal before Mr. Robot had even premiered.
Before venturing into TV, Esmail wrote multiple feature scripts that landed on the Black List, including Comet, which was made in 2014 with Esmail directing. He is repped by CAA, Anonymous Content and attorney Jeff Frankel.
In addition to Esmail’s shows, UCP’s series slate includes Bravo’s breakout hit Dirty John, Netflix’s upcoming The Umbrella Academy, USA’s The Sinner, YouTube’s Impulse, Hulu’s The Act and Syfy’s The Magicians, among others.
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