Traditional TV has a void to fill after losing top creators to Netflix and Amazon.
The streaming-video giants have been stockpiling the talent behind TV’s “must see” shows, as they make more exclusive programming for their platforms. Netflix inked wide-ranging deals giving them overall access to American Crime Story creator Ryan Murphy, Scandal showrunner Shonda Rhimes, and GLOW and Orange Is the New Black producer Jenji Kohan, rather than buy show by show. Amazon snapped up star producers like Amy Sherman-Palladino, the woman behind its Emmy-winning Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and Robert Kirkman, creator of The Walking Dead. And Hulu recently signed The Handmaid’s Tale producer Bruce Miller.
The land grab for TV’s top talent is leaving traditional TV studios, which generally have smaller checkbooks than their tech rivals, scrambling to snap up newcomers and undervalued showrunners, MoffettNathanson’s media analysts wrote in a May 31 report:
As Netflix moves to sign up top talent (like a big market sports team in the years before salary caps), traditional TV studios will inevitably act like smaller market teams that rely on scouting and Moneyball strategies to identify up and coming talent to help fill the gaps from lost product moving to [subscription-video-on-demand].
Lesser known and up-and-coming showrunners are riskier because they’re unproven. There are only a few folks in the industry who consistently crank out series that hit with audiences around the world, and can juggle multiple shows at once. There’s mega-producer Greg Berlanti, who is slated to have a record 14 live-action TV shows on the air this year, including 10 on broadcast TV, like Riverdale, Blindspot, and all of the CW’s DC series. There are prolific creators like Mike Schur (The Office, Master of None), Ava DuVernay, Seth Rogen, and Lena Waithe, who already have ties to Netflix. And then there are proven network TV hitmakers like Chuck Lorre, Seth MacFarlane, and Dick Wolf.
Any one of them could end up atop Netflix’s hit list. At a May MoffettNathanson event, Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos declined to say how many overall deals are on the way, but indicated there may be a few more to come. “It’s a pretty small group of folks who can, again, really care about making high-quality content that is culturally relevant and also popular for mass audiences,” said Sarandos.
Independent studios like Lionsgate and Sony TV are in the toughest spot, the analysts wrote. They’re facing stiff competition for buyers as well as talent, now that the major US TV networks are looking for content from their sister studios first. Many of the shows on ABC, like Grey’s Anatomy, Black-ish, and The Good Doctor, are produced by ABC Studios, for example. And we’re seeing fewer instances of popular series like This Is Us, which is produced by 20th Century Fox TV, landing on outside networks such as NBC.
Sarandos, meanwhile, says Netflix can offer showrunners something traditional TV can’t—the chance to flex new muscles. TV networks tend to cater to specific demographics, whereas Netflix says its 125 million members worldwide want a little bit of everything on the service.
“We’re going to have an appetite for the vast majority of the things that he wants to make,” Sarandos said of Murphy. “We brought Ryan in, we kind of showed him a lot, like… I bet you wouldn’t guess that people who like Bob’s Burgers like American Horror Story. It’s that thread of humor that he threads through all the stuff that actually gives us the ability to broaden his audience beyond a single network.”
Big paydays don’t hurt either; Murphy’s five-year deal with Netflix was reportedly worth $300 million.