Netflix helped ignite the heated arms race for talent that has yielded mammoth nine-figure deals for content creators across the television spectrum. But with upwards of 500 scripted series airing in 2019, shared universes of continuity that expand across multiple mediums and the looming entrance of four major streaming players, the small screen battlefield is more chaotic than anyone could have predicted.
Amid the carnage and chaos, however, a handful of powerful studios have managed to recruit an equalizing difference-maker to their ranks. While the debate surrounding the impact all of this entropy has on the health of the industry rages on, audiences should rightly be excited about the future of viewing options.
Here are six of the most exciting recent free agent signings in television.
Jordan Peele—Amazon Prime Video
Last summer, Oscar-winning filmmaker Jordan Peele (who probably won’t be directing Marvel’s Blade reboot) moved his overall TV deal to Amazon Studios. The move came after Amazon doled out a series pickup to Peele’s Nazi drama The Hunt, one of many splashy big-budget genre efforts Amazon is pushing in its blockbuster re-design.
The Hunt follows a diverse band of Nazi Hunters living in 1977 New York City. The Hunters, as they’re known, have discovered that hundreds of high-ranking Nazi officials are living among us and conspiring to create a Fourth Reich in the U.S. The eclectic team of Hunters will set out on a bloody quest to bring the Nazis to justice and thwart their new genocidal plans. David Weil (Moonfall) has been tapped as co-showrunner along with Nikki Toscano (24: Legacy). Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (American Horror Story) will direct the pilot and serve as executive producer. Al Pacino and Logan Lerman star.
Peele has become a brand unto himself in short order with his name power alone attracting hordes of audiences. Amazon would do well to give him carte blanche, especially if they don’t land the Game of Thrones creators.
Phil Lord & Chris Miller—Sony Pictures Television
The creative duo who recently won an Oscar for producing Sony’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and who launched the Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street and Lego Movie franchises signed an overall film deal with Universal this past weekend after locking in a lucrative five-year, nine-figure TV deal with Sony back in April. The pair previously worked under 20th Century Fox Television.
On the small screen, Lord and Miller won an Emmy for directing the first two episodes of The Last Man on Earth as well as executive producing. Their most recent TV project, the animated series Bless the Harts created by Emily Spivey, snagged a straight-to-series order and will premiere on Fox in September.
Superhero fans will surely be excited to hear that Lord and Miller will be creating a shared TV universe populated with Sony’s Marvel characters, an ambitious franchise move for the studio’s TV division.
Sam Esmail—Universal Content Productions
UCP reportedly struck its biggest deal ever to retain Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail, doling out between $20 million to $25 million per year in a four-year extension signed in February. Triple threat writer-director-producers like Esmail just don’t come along too often, so keeping the talented multi-hyphenate in house was a priority. The deal enables Esmail to continue working with parent company NBCUniversal and produce content for both linear networks and streaming services.
Esmail recently directed the first season of Amazon’s critically acclaimed Homecoming. NBCU, meanwhile, is preparing its own direct-to-consumer platform for a 2020 launch. Looking ahead, he’ll also oversee the upcoming anthology Briarpatch for USA Network and is currently developing limited series Metropolis and Angelyne.
On a more creative note, Esmail has emerged as arguably the most visually daring storyteller on all of television. Seeing what he does with more security, resources and creative freedom should be a treat for TV fans.
Drew Goddard—20th Century Fox TV
Credit Disney for not allowing its hectic acquisition of Fox to disrupt its goal of making power moves. With a four-year, eight-figure deal, Disney’s 20th Century Fox TV snapped up Drew Goddard, one of the most under-appreciated writer-director-producers in all of Hollywood.
Casual entertainment fans might not know Goddard by name given his poor streak of luck when it comes to blockbuster breakout opportunities. He was overseeing the villain-centric Sinister Six spinoff for Sony, before The Amazing Spider-Man 2 tanked any chances of franchise expansion. He was then attached to the Deadpool spinoff X-Force, though that may no longer be in the cards after Disney acquired Fox.
But since Goddard, who most recently wrote and directed the underrated Bad Times at the El Royale, will have access to all of Disney’s properties, including Hulu and FX, his more mature style has ample room to flourish in the Magic Kingdom’s empire.
Netflix is paying Shonda Rhimes a gargantuan $100 million, making her one of the highest-paid creators in all of television. But it’s not as if Rhimes isn’t worth the gamble. The prolific writer-producer is overseeing a staggering eight shows to kick off her Netflix tenure.
While at ABC (owned by Disney), Rhimes emerged as the modern-day equivalent of Norman Lear as she dominated Thursday night programming with Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder and more. Her ability to consistently craft audience-attracting new series while overseeing multiple projects at once makes her one of the most valuable names in the business.
Wall Street and arm chair analysts are concerned about Netflix’s future given the upcoming losses of popular series Friends and The Office. The addition of proven hit-makers such as Rhimes should mitigate that trepidation.
After a highly-competitive industry-wide bidding war for his services, WarnerMedia ultimately landed Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker director J.J. Abrams and his Bad Robot Productions on an overall deal believed to be worth as much as $500 million. The move gives Abrams access to an array of high-profile blockbuster IP and keeps Bad Robot under its Warner Bros. Television banner.
The two have been in small screen business together for a decade, but this new pact seals the deal for an ambitious ramp-up. Following The Rise of Skywalker, Abrams will return to television to co-run his first series in more than a decade for HBO. Contraband, previously titled Demimonde, has been described as “an epic and intimate sci-fi fantasy drama” that is “centered around a world’s battle against a monstrous, oppressive force.” Abrams will also produce HBO‘s Lovecraft Country alongside Jordan Peele and Apple’s Little Voice.
Importantly, WarnerMedia’s recruitment of Abrams comes as it is set to launch its standalone streaming service, HBO Max, in early 2020. Fans can likely expect a wealth of exclusive Abrams content to find its way onto the new platform.