The success of HBO’s “Mare of Easttown” couldn’t have come at a better time for Wiip, the boutique production company behind Kate Winslet’s limited series. The murder mystery was nominated for 16 Emmys this year, earning raves for its unique storytelling and performances — and also for its twisty, satisfying ending.
“Mare” has become a nice calling card for Wiip, which former ABC Entertainment chief Paul Lee launched with the backing of CAA in 2018. “It is a landmark moment,” Lee says. “The genre is something that’s been done for a long time but never with that level of sophistication and with an ending that surprised and then surprised and then surprised again.”
The young company found success early with Apple TV Plus’ “Dickinson,” a sly, contemporary take on a period piece starring Hailee Steinfeld as Emily Dickinson, and was also behind Quibi’s “Dummy,” a short-form series starring Anna Kendrick and a sex doll (and now experiencing a second life on Roku).
“Mare’s” arrival coincided with major changes in the ownership structure of Wiip. The company started out as CAA’s attempt to get into the business of production and ownership. “I had long conversations with Matteo Perale,” says Lee, “who was the head of strategy at CAA and now a co-founder with us, about how we should do it and where we should start.”
Lee came up with “Wiip” as a distinctive, modern-sounding moniker. It was only later that the company added meaning to it and turned it into an acronym standing for “word, idea, imagination, production.”
“It was a tremendous feeling of freedom, after having spent two or three decades in corporate life, to be able to build a company from scratch,” says Lee, who bristles when asked if he’d ever like to run a network again. “Not for a second,” he says, touting “the great feelings of liberation I got after coming out of the corporate worlds of BBC, Discovery and Disney.”
Private equity company Atwater Capital eventually took a stake in Wiip as well. But then the talent agencies agreed to sell their production arms as part of a deal with the Writers Guild of America to end their long standoff. CAA was required to divest its stake to conform to a 20% ownership cap.
That’s when South Korea-based JTBC Studios, which also held a small stake in Wiip, agreed to take over the majority ownership. “For us, it was natural, because we were already in business for them,” Lee says. “They were here a couple of months ago, and I think there’s going to be a tremendous amount of collaboration these two companies can do together. We can obviously help with a lot of their IP and their shows, and they can really help us, and they’re ambitious to grow.”
Lee says he maintains regular contact with CAA head of scripted TV Joe Cohen, but has always maintained autonomy at Wiip, and that it’s “very much business as usual for us” under the new ownership structure. Reporting to Lee are four key creative staffers overseeing development and production: Mark Roybal, Josh Stern, Hope Hartman and David Flynn.
Upcoming Wiip projects include Amazon Prime Video’s “The Summer I Turned Pretty,” HBO Max’s “The Uninhabitable Earth,” FX on Hulu’s “Pistol” and HBO’s “The White House Plumbers” (which was shut down last week after an alleged altercation between executive producer David Mandel and a crew member; HBO said it was “investigating the matter fully”). Internationally, Wiip is producing “Toast of Tinseltown,” starring Matt Berry, for BBC.
Lee is eager to expand Wiip’s features output; he says the next step is to map out the future with the new owners. “We’re a young company, and we think there’s a long way to go,” he says.