×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Star Power, Image Concerns Drive Apple’s Original Content Strategy

Apple has yet to release a single frame from any of the original scripted shows it has ordered during the past year, but the soon-to-be streaming giant is already making a big impact.

Apple has budgeted approximately $1 billion to date on their initial series development slate that will power its push into the streaming video arena. That includes high-profile projects like the Reese Witherspoon-Jennifer Aniston morning show drama, which was Apple’s first scripted series order and was picked up with a two-season commitment in November 2017. The slate also includes an Emily Dickinson half-hour series starring Hailee Steinfeld, and an adaptation of the book “Defending Jacob” starring and executive produced by Chris Evans.

What these and other series have in common — 17 so far, and counting — is the marquee power of the names attached, both in front of or behind the camera.

“You need to come to them totally packaged or with some big IP,” a top TV literary agent told Variety. “It’s like how ‘House of Cards’ started on Netflix, with David Fincher and Kevin Spacey attached. Right now, Apple’s probably not going to take a chance on some unknown talent.”

Apple may be seeking to rival Netflix with an impressive slate of shows, and grabbing headlines with each successive series order. But Apple’s current approach is the exact opposite of the reigning ruler of streaming TV’s early original programming days.

Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported on a mandate from CEO Tim Cook that original programs tread lightly when it comes to sex, violence and controversy. That’s a tough assignment given the competition in premium TV, where edgy and envelope-pushing is usually taken as a given. A source close to Apple downplayed the strictness of the content guidelines, but the creative community has nonetheless taken notice. A rep for Apple’s video division declined to comment.

When Netflix began producing original series, it thrived on secrecy, often only announcing projects once they had completed production. Apple, on the other hand, has been announcing projects regularly even though it does not plan to launch them until mid-2019 at the earliest. “Right now, they’re in the business of promoting shows without having anything made,” another lit agent said.

Yet despite Apple’s lack of a track record in the scripted series department, stars and creators have not been shying away. The reason for this appears to be two-fold.

First, Apple is coming into the market late, after Netflix, Amazon and Hulu have proven the viability of streaming as a platform for original series. Rolled up in that is the fact that Apple is a very well-known and trusted name in the technology space. Even though the exact details of how Apple will roll out its shows has yet to be revealed, it is believed that episodes (if not full seasons) will be made available to users of Apple devices, ensuring a massive potential audience.

Second, Apple has a robust executive suite made up of highly-regarded industry vets. Sources said that this factor in particular has made dealings with Apple much easier, as many executives they have hired have long-standing relationships throughout Hollywood. Leading it all are former Sony Pictures Television presidents Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht, who were recruited to lead Apple’s originals division in June 2017. Their time at the helm of Sony TV saw the independent studio turn out hit shows like AMC’s “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul,” NBC’s “The Blacklist” and Netflix’s “The Crown.”

Another agency source said that Apple has communicated they are looking for more grounded shows like “This Is Us” rather than large-scale genre shows like “Game of Thrones.” That said, Apple does have several genre shows in the works, like its Ron Moore space race drama and the Steven Knight series “See,” which is described as “an epic, world-building drama set in the future.” A revival of the Steven Spielberg-produced “Amazing Stories” anthology franchise is also in the works, with “Once Upon a Time” showrunners Eddy Kitsis and Adam Horowitz at the helm.

But for those who are expecting to see boundary-pushing programming like the material found on HBO and Netflix, they will have to keep waiting, at least for now. Apple is said to be focusing on broader, more family-friendly fare at the outset of their originals push.

“Everyone has an iPhone–teenagers, parents, etcetera,” one agent said. “They want to be able to have programming that anyone who has an iPhone could watch.”

More TV

  • Lulu Wang Nicole Kidman

    Lulu Wang Boards Nicole Kidman Amazon Series 'The Expatriates'

    “The Farewell” writer and director Lulu Wang is teaming up with Nicole Kidman for the drama series “The Expatriates” at Amazon. The show had received a straight-to-series order at the streamer back in July. Wang is joining the series as a writer and executive producer and will also direct multiple episodes. Wang and Kidman had [...]

  • WGA West Logo

    Former 'Letterman' Head Writer Merrill Markoe to Receive Writers Guild Honor

    Merrill Markoe, longtime head writer at “Late Night With David Letterman,” will receive the Writers Guild of America West’s Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television Writing Achievement. She will be honored at the Writers Guild Awards on Feb. 1 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. “Merrill Markoe’s pioneering work created what was then a new language [...]

  • TV News Roundup: Natalie Martinez Joins

    TV News Roundup: Natalie Martinez Joins CBS All Access' 'The Stand' (EXCLUSIVE)

    In today’s TV news roundup, Natalie Martinez will guest star in CBS All Access’ “The Stand,” and USA announces the third season premiere date of “The Sinner.”  CASTING Natalie Martinez (“The I-Land”) will guest star in CBS All Access‘ adaptation of “The Stand,“ based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name, Variety has exclusively learned. [...]

  • Deadliest Catch - Crab Fishing In

    Discovery Networks Corners Composers in Music Royalties Battle

    Shows on the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, HGTV and Food Network may sound very different in the coming months. That’s because Discovery Networks, which owns those and other cable channels, is instituting a new pay policy that virtually assures no composer currently working on their programs will do so after Dec. 31. Discovery has informed [...]

  • Will Poulter attends a special screening

    'Lord of the Rings': Will Poulter No Longer Attached to Amazon Series (EXCLUSIVE)

    Will Poulter will not be appearing in Amazon’s upcoming “Lord of the Rings” series after all, Variety has learned exclusively. According to an individual with knowledge of the situation, scheduling conflicts will prevent the “Bandersnatch” and “Midsommar” actor from joining the show based on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. Variety had exclusively reported on Poulter’s [...]

  • Brockmire IFC Hank Azaria

    'Brockmire' to End With Season 4 on IFC

    IFC has announced that the fourth season of “Brockmire,” premiering March 2020, will be the Hank Azaria comedy’s last. As well as Azaria, the show’s stars Amanda Peet, Tyrel Jackson Williams and Katie Finneran are all returning for the final eight-episode send off.  Additionally, “The Flash” star Reina Hardesty is joining the cast. “I really [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content