f you want to judge the impact that The App That Ate Hollywood has had on the whole entertainment ecosystem—and why the whole thing may be poised for a gigantic rearrangement, aka trainwreck, in the very near term—you need look no farther than the WarnerMedia deal with J.J. Abrams. Announced late last week, the deal valued Abrams at officially $250 million, but that could be worth, as someone passed onto THR, “possibly much more thanks to various financial incentives.”
While Ted Sarandos would like to think of himself as the bold innovator re-configuring the potentialities of entertainment, he may well end up going down as the Mark Canton of the streaming age: the man whose reckless, narcissistic spending drove prices up to a place where they made the entire model of filmmaking collapse.
In 1995, when Canton paid Jim Carrey $20 million to make The Cable Guy, there were some stuffy old-thinkers who scoffed that this could upend the business. “A perilous and dangerous precedent,” warned Mike Medavoy. “I’m making movies to make money. That kind of number with a back-end gross doesn’t make business sense to me,” said Morgan Creek’s James Robinson.
Canton and Sony laughed off the naysayers. They had landed the biggest star in movies. “It was a business decision,” Canton told the LA Times. “And if it’s the right one, it’ll be very profitable.”
If the decisions to lay hundreds of millions at the feet of Ryan Murphy, Shonda Rhimes, Greg Berlanti, and now J.J. Abrams are the right ones, they will be very profitable.
There’s just that “if” they’ve got to get past.
Under normal circumstances, what would it be worth to land the producer whose track record this past decade consists of The Wrong Mans, Castle Rock, Roadies, Westworld, 11.22.63, Believe, Revolution, Almost Human, Fringe, Alcatraz, and Undercovers?
Not all disasters, certainly, but does that look to you like the sort of lineup that a competitor in the Great Entertainment Semi-Finals would have to have, even if we have to pay half a billion for it? Or if were you in the Warner Tsar’s chair, would this be your reaction to the chance to land the producer of Roadies? “CEO John Stankey made it his personal mission to secure a new deal with Bad Robot.”
Yes, he produced Lost back in 2004, and in Fourteen Hundred and Ninety-Two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue, but neither of them has matched that success lately.
Of course, he’s directed (and produced) a lot of big movies, but presumably, he’s still available to go anywhere to direct big movies for a fee, as he demonstrated with his loyalty to Paramount during that era of Bad Robot. Presumably Warners will still have to pay him if he directs their big movies.
In fact, as the source of the THR piece made clear,
(By the way, it is the most Abramsesque thing of all to leak to the press: You know I could’ve gotten half a billion if I wanted.)
When we add it all up, what is it costing the TV industry just to take care of its top-20 producers? What is that total price tag going to look like once all their shows are in production? Does anyone think that this is a sustainable model even for the winners of this round of the Great Entertainment Semi-Finals?
With 7,000 shows sloshing around out there in the streaming jungle, all trying to get attention, what is even the guarantee that the Next Giant Thing, or the Next 10 Giant Things, will come out of this group at all? TV breakthroughs, as often as not, don’t come from the seasoned workshops, but rather from newish upstarts, breaking out with something no one would’ve ever thought of before. Who the hell were Benioff and Weiss before GoT? Would anyone have given them a $250 million overall deal?
Now that we mention it, how many of the Giants have matched their early successes? Has J.J. produced anything anywhere in the neighborhood of Lost? Has Shonda created anything with the staying power of Grey’s?
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