Disney deal with Fox reopens battle for TV’s creative talent

Streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon are swooping for leading producers

Talent war: Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange star as Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in ‘Feud: Bette and Joan’, created by sought-after drama producer Ryan Murphy. Image: BBC / Fox.

Talent war: Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange star as Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in ‘Feud: Bette and Joan’, created by sought-after drama producer Ryan Murphy. Image: BBC / Fox.


Walt Disney’s deal with 21st Century Fox is creating an opening for competitors to poach one of the most sought-after creative minds in television, a sign of the ripple effects of consolidation in Hollywood.

Ryan Murphy, creator of hits such as American Horror Story, Feud: Bette and Joan and Glee, is negotiating a new contract, and had been expected to renew his deal at Fox, according to people familiar with the matter. Now he’s giving more thought to a potential jump to a rival when his deal expires in mid-2018.

A move to an online service such as Netflix and Amazon. com is possible, they said. Fox has been Murphy’s home for the past eight years and is where he has made almost all of his biggest hits.

Yet Disney’s $52.4 billion deal to acquire Fox’s movie and TV studio and channels such as FX and National Geographic has put top executives of those divisions in limbo, emboldening other companies bidding for Murphy’s services. At least two other parties are pursuing Murphy in addition to Netflix and Amazon, the people said.

The streaming providers had once been considered long shots to wrest Murphy from Fox. But the merger mania overtaking the media industry, where Time Warner, Scripps Networks Interactive and Starz agreed to sales in the past 18 months, is changing the calculus for top talent in the industry, making Netflix and Amazon look like relatively safe bets with their deep pockets and long-term commitments.

Murphy, 52, and his representatives are asking for a deal that equals or tops the one Netflix gave to producer Shonda Rhimes, valued at more than $100 million, according to people familiar with the matter.

Netflix defection

Rhimes shocked Hollywood when she jumped to Netflix from Disney, where she produced hit shows Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder. She is one of many producers and filmmakers who have received offers of tens of millions of dollars from Netflix and Amazon to stray from traditional TV.

Amazon poached The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman from AMC, the network that airs the zombie show, while Netflix has signed more expansive deals with Stranger Things producer Shawn Levy and Orange is the New Black creator Jenji Kohan.

Rhimes left Disney because she craved creative freedom she couldn’t find at ABC, a broadcast network that has to avoid some adult themes, grittier language and nudity because of its broad audience and government standards for the use of public airwaves.

Disney can offer Murphy the chance to produce shows for broadcast network ABC, cable network FX and streaming outlet Hulu, which won the Emmy for best drama this year for The Handmaid’s Tale.

That prize has been elusive for Netflix despite offerings such as The Crown and House of Cards, and recruiting Rhimes and Murphy could help the company attain its goal - or at least add to its library of exclusive, buzzworthy shows.

Amazon, meanwhile, is refashioning its TV and movie production in the wake of studio chief Roy Price’s departure this year, and signing Murphy could help the company develop programs that catch on more with viewers.

No matter what happens, Netflix will be getting at least one show by Murphy. The streaming service won the bidding this year for Ratched, an origin story based on the One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest character.

In an example of the television industry’s tangled web of business relationships, the series is scheduled in mid-2018 to begin production - through Fox’s TV studio. If Netflix wins its own deal with Murphy, it’ll be able to produce such programming in-house.

– Bloomberg