In a potentially game-changing hire, Bela Bajaria, who sold three series to Netflix as head of Universal TV, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Master of None and the upcoming Gypsy, is joining the Internet TV network as VP, Content. This marks the highest-level executive from the traditional Hollywood TV industry to go to Netflix, viewed by many as a disruptor that has been mounting a major challenge to the TV networks and studios with its exponentially growing slate of original and acquired content.
Bajaria, who will start on Nov.1, will replace Sean Carey, Netflix’s VP Content Acquisitions, who is leaving the company. She will oversee the licensing of TV and film content from major U.S. studios. Bajaria will be tasked with forging closer relationships with the big U.S.networks and studios via co-productions. She will also oversee a new team developing original unscripted programs — an area Netflix had been looking to expand into, following its maiden effort in the reality competition arena, the upcoming Sylvester Stallone-produced series Ultimate Beastmaster.
Signaling a closer cooperation with the traditional Hollywood networks and studios, which Bajaria knows well, Netflix is looking to move away from traditional licensing into co-production and development partnerships with the networks and studios. The streaming network recently made several major deals for international distribution rights to U.S. drama series that Netflix calls co-production agreements in which it has been “ensuring early financing”– on CBS Studios‘ Star Trek, Paramount TV/Studio T’s The Alienist and Mark Gordon Co./ABC Studios/eOne’s Designated Survivor. The financing has been significant; I hear on Star Trek, international distributor Netflix is covering the entire production cost of the sci-fi series, which will air on fledgling Netflix’s SVOD rival CBS All Access in the U.S.
Bajaria’s hire should boost Netflix’s profile in the industry as she is well respected in the Hollywood community and had been tipped for a number of high-level TV jobs since her surprising exit from NBC. She will report to Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos. She and her group will work separately from VP original content Cindy Holland, who also reports to Sarandos, and her team. Holland oversees the streaming platform’s original series.
“Bela is a great creative television executive with broad experience and deep industry relationships,” said Sarandos. “Having worked closely with her on Master of None and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, we know we have found the perfect executive to lead this new effort.”
Bajaria’s new duties provide no visible overlap with her previous role as president of Universal TV where she oversaw the studios’ scripted series development and production. That would avoid any potential non-compete issues as Bajaria was let go in May with a lot of time left on her contract.
“I am looking forward to joining Netflix, an innovative company that supports creative vision and fosters risk-taking,” Bajaria said. “Having worked closely with Ted, Cindy and the team, I know they are great creative partners and care deeply about the experience of talent, their partners and their members.”
Netflix has had a complicated relationship with the Hollywood establishment as it has been providing new revenue streams for network series but also out-muscling the linear players for projects and talent and saturating the market with original content. In the past two years, it has been recruiting executives, mostly up-and-comers, from traditional TV networks and studios. The company is currently sued by Fox for alleged executive poaching.
Bajaria ran Universal TV for almost five years, most recently as president. In addition to Master of None, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Gypsy, starring Naomi Watts, for Netflix; the series developed under her include Brooklyn Nine-Nine for Fox; The Mindy Project for Fox and Hulu; Superstore and The Good Place for NBC, Bates Motel for A&E, and Pure Genius for CBS.
Before joining Universal TV, Bajaria, known to be talent-friendly, was SVP, Cable Programming for CBS TV Studios, launching the studio’s cable division, and SVP of Movies and Miniseries for the CBS network.