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Bela Bajaria Joins Netflix to Lead Licensing, Co-Productions, Unscripted

Four months after her surprise exit from NBCUniversal, Bela Bajaria has found her next gig.

The former Universal Television chief has joined Netflix as vice president of content, the digital service announced Tuesday. Bajaria will lead Netflix’s television- and film-licensing efforts as well as co-productions with U.S. networks. She will also be responsible for developing original unscripted programming for the service.

Bajaria’s hire comes as Netflix attempts to shift its business away from traditional licensing agreements and toward co-productions and development partnerships. The streaming service has recently entered into a number of co-production deals on U.S.-made shows that grant Netflix global rights in the same window as original broadcasters in exchange for early financing. Among those deals are “Star Trek: Discovery” with CBS, “The Alienist” with Paramount TV and ABC’s “Designated Survivor” with eOne.

Bajaria will report to Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos alongside VP of original content Cindy Holland, who will continue to head original scripted programming for the service.

A popular executive in television’s creative community, Bajaria made a surprise exit in May from Universal Television, where she had just been promoted a year earlier to president. NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt had hired Bajaria in 2011, when he joined NBCUniversal, to head the company’s revived studio arm. She joined NBCUniversal from CBS, where she had a long run as a programming executive at the network and at CBS Television Studios.

Bajaria amassed and retained an impressive roster of talent at Universal TV, including Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, Jason Katims, Mike Schur, Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang, and Mindy Kaling. But her ouster followed a disappointing upfront in which the studio sold only seven scripted series to broadcasters, down from 12 a year earlier. It also came amid internal talk of growing tension between Bajaria and NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke.

In selecting former NBC drama chief Pearlena Igbokwe as Bajaria’s successor at the studio, NBC addressed what it felt was a disconnect between the network and studio. Under Bajaria, Universal TV struggled to create hits for NBC, even as it found success selling to the network’s competitors — including to Netflix.

“Bela is a great creative television executive with broad experience and deep industry relationships,” Sarandos said. “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 added, “I am looking forward to joining Netflix, an innovative company that supports creative vision and fosters risk-taking. 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. They are a dynamic group and I’m looking forward to continue building new partnerships at Netflix with amazing talent and studio and network colleagues.”

Bajaria is the latest and most high-profile executive to join Netflix in a hiring spree that has raised eyebrows in the industry — and prompted a lawsuit from 21st Century Fox over what it claims was the illegal poaching of two execs. The ramping up of Netflix’s team has mirrored the ramping up of its programming slate. According to FX Networks research, Netflix has as of July, premiered or ordered 71 original scripted series.

Holland will continue to head scripted originals for the service, with Bajaria effectively stepping into the role previously held by Sean Carey, who has departed his post as VP of content acquisition after more than five years with the company. Carey joined Netflix in 2011 from Sony, where he last served as senior vice president, strategic content initiatives.

To the purview that Carey leaves behind Bajaria adds unscripted originals. Netflix has recently begun experimenting with forms of programming beyond scripted, including documentary series such as “Making a Murderer,” which will remain separate from Bajaria’s unscripted efforts, and late-night style programming such as “Chelsea.”

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