The leaders of hollywood’s largest TV studios have their hands full keeping track of the ever-expanding number of U.S. outlets in the market for original series. At Sony Pictures Television, the new regime has set an ambitious goal to expand the studio’s reach by fielding original shows to buyers well beyond U.S. borders.
Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg, SPT’s presidents of programming and production, were promoted to worldwide production chiefs in June following the exit of longtime Sony TV chairman Steve Mosko. The post-Mosko restructuring promises to break down some of the walls that existed previously between Sony’s various TV departments as well as the Japanese conglom’s film, music, and PlayStation units.
“We are legitimately one company now,” Van Amburg says. The TV division is working more closely with Sony film chief Tom Rothman, sharing writers and ideas for properties that can travel between the big and small screens.
The TV group is also teaming up with PlayStation on VR initiatives, engaging some of its A-list showrunners in producing cutting-edge content for the immersive medium. Ties to the Sony Music empire will also improve, Van Amburg and Erlicht promise, as division heads brainstorm on collaborative projects involving Sony artists, including Adele. First up is RCA Records’ release of the soundtrack of SPT’s Netflix drama “The Get Down,” which chronicles the rise of hip-hop culture out of the Bronx in the late 1970s.
The shift in mindset reflects the warming of what had been chilly relations at times between Mosko and his boss, Sony Entertainment chairman Michael Lynton. Van Amburg and Erlicht aim to make SPT less of a fiefdom on the Culver City lot.
Within the TV group, the pair’s ascent from their previous roles as heads of U.S. production means that Sony TV will speak with one voice around the world when it comes to selling original programming. (SPT’s vast international networks unit remains a separate entity headed by Andy Kaplan, who also runs Sony’s Crackle streaming service.)
Even before the Mosko shuffle, Erlicht and Van Amburg’s division had gained traction in setting up series outside the U.S., notably with the U.K.’s ITV (“Houdini & Doyle”) and Channel 4 (“Electric Dreams: The World of Philip K. Dick”). But those moves were not made in concert with the London-based international TV production group headed by Andrea Wong. Now that Wong reports to Erlicht and Van Amburg, there will be efforts at greater coordination.
“We’re trying to be more effective and more efficient in the way we produce global television,” Erlicht says. “We’re looking to take some of our great American talent overseas, and bring some of the great international production assets we have back over. We want to do all of that in a more seamless manner than we’ve done it in the past.”
Although there is no shortage of domestic TV buyers, the U.K. and Europe offer new opportunities and financing models. As an independent studio in the U.S., Sony TV faces pressure from the largest networks to fork over ownership stakes as part of the price of getting shows on the air. This is not the case in foreign markets, allowing the company an alternative platform to mount productions that can be exported back to the U.S. In recent weeks the pair have had conversations about “Outlander” showrunner Ron Moore heading a project for Chinese TV, and Shawn Ryan supervising a drama for France’s Canal Plus.
SPT’s roster of scripted and unscripted series has ballooned in the 11 years since Van Amburg and Erlicht were appointed to their previous positions. Van Amburg came to the studio as a development exec in 1997; Erlicht joined in 2002.
While the pair has big ambitions and big goals for adjusting the culture at SPT, they hope to never lose the spirit of being the scrappy independent that Mosko helped to establish.
“We’ll never have the volume of some of our competitors,” Erlicht says. “We’re always going to be that boutique studio in terms of our mentality.”
(Pictured: Zack Van Amburg, Jamie Erlicht)