Exiting 20th TV for a deal worth as much as $300 million, the mega-producer could lure his stable of top writers, but not without a fight.
Like any divorce where children are involved, Ryan Murphy’s split with 20th Century Fox Television is poised to get messy.
The studio has been his longtime partner, after all, and together they’ve birthed such hits as FX’s American Horror Story, Feud and Fox’s 911. But on Feb. 13, Murphy announced he’d be moving on, having found a new partner in Netflix, which lured him with a five-year deal worth as much as $300 million.
What’s left to be hashed out is not only the focus of his attention with seven active series through 20th TV but also the longer-term fate of his superstar collaborators, at least some of whom sources expect he’ll try to recruit to Netflix pacts once their own multiyear 20th TV deals expire. Among them: Tim Minear, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan, each of whom has shared creator credits on several Murphy shows.
It won’t happen without a fight, however. 20th TV, insiders say, will look to hold on to as many of those upper-level writer-producers beyond their current commitments as possible. Of course, what the studio historically would have been able to offer those creatives in shared history — to say nothing of the opportunity to sell to multiple outlets and break out on their own in a post-Murphy era (something some have toyed with in the past, say sources) — is now clouded by uncertainty ahead of Disney’s acquisition of Fox assets including the studio.
Similar circumstances already are at play in Shondaland, where a handful of Shonda Rhimes’ top writers are said to be considering their own futures, be it at ABC Studios, Rhimes’ former home, or Netflix, her current one. Insiders say ABC Studios brass has been busy pitching certain key players on staying put, while Rhimes, rather than the streaming execs who lured her, is making the case for Netflix. (To date, the service hasn’t been in the business of signing mid-level producers to development deals but that could soon change, particularly as it looks to services its nine-figure producers.)
Among the perks of remaining at ABC, as How to Get Away With Murder’s Pete Nowalk is expected to do: shots across the TV dial and the chance at success on one’s own rather than as part of the Rhimes machine. The counter-argument: That machine, like Murphy’s, has a strong track record of success and is now even better funded than before.
Fortunately for Murphy’s soon-to-be-ex studio, it is expected to get a generous custody agreement. In fact, per sources, Murphy is incentivized to keep churning out his stable of 20th hits, in the form of more money if he makes additional seasons. And, to that end, the first two bites that the streamer — which, say those same sources, plans to pay him regardless of whether he generates a Netflix-owned hit — will have at a Murphy creation will be his One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest prequel Ratched and his hourlong comedy The Politician, which he sold while still at 20th.
A version of this story first appeared in the Feb. 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.