The Billion Dollar Arms Race for TV Writers

At last! The Communications Companies formerly known as TV networks and streaming websites may not be giving writers as much loving as we’d like to get, but they’ve acknowledged that they need us in what may be the best (certainly the most time-honored) way of all: By opening their checkbooks:

by Nicole LaPorte

Earlier this month, when Sam Esmail, the showrunner behind the critically-acclaimed television shows Mr. Robot and Homecoming, signed an overall deal with Universal Content Productions that will pay him $100 million over four years, the news was dutifully reported by the trades. But it was in no way the kind of headline news that sent shock waves through the entertainment industry.  

Since when did a nine-figure deal for a writer with two shows become ho-hum?

In the last 18 months there have been so many jaw-dropping deals with the people who dream up TV shows–and the numbers for those deals so staggeringly high–that reports of another TV writer getting piles of cash thrown at him or her by a network, studio, or streaming company has become almost numbingly de rigueur. 

The starting gun that set off this phenomenon can be traced back to Netflix’s announcement in the summer of 2017 that it was poaching Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal creator Shonda Rhimes from her longtime home at ABC in a deal worth $150 million. Rhimes has hinted that the four-year pact, which has her developing eight exclusive series for the streamer, is actually worth much more than that figure.

Either way, it far exceeds the $10 million a year that ABC was paying her to create that purported $2 billion revenue stream, and it sent eyebrows shooting upwards all over Hollywood.

Netflix didn’t stop there. It next signed up Glee and American Horror Story showrunner Ryan Murphy in a five-year deal worth $300 million, which was quickly dubbed “the richest producing deal in television history.” Then the company nabbed Black-ish creator Kenya Barris for $100 million over three years. 

With the specter of all the talent setting up shop at Netflix, last June Warner Bros. TV entered the arms race, signing prolific writer-producer Greg Berlanti (ArrowThe FlashRiverdale) to a $400 million deal that lasts until 2024. 

A new era for TV showrunners had officially arrived, one that is sending TV studios and streaming companies scrambling to line up their own proprietary stables of talent. What’s causing this mad dash for TV creatives is twofold… .

Read it all at FASTCOMPANY.COM