It’s done! JJ Abrams and his Bad Robot have closed a five-year deal for him to keep his TV business and move his film business under the WarnerMedia umbrella. The wide-ranging pact, which runs through 2024, also includes games and digital content.
The JJ Abrams Sweepstakes started last fall, with a number of media congloms vying for his services in an all-encompassing deal expected to reach as much as $500 million. By June, WarnerMedia emerged as the frontrunner thanks largely to the shorthand Abrams had developed with the Warner Bros TV team over the past 13 years, and a massive financial commitment by parent WarnerMedia. It took a couple of more months to seal the deal, largely over intricacies involving ending Abrams’ Paramount Pictures movie pact. Under his exit agreement, Bad Robot will honor its existing Paramount obligations.
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In addition to WarnerMedia, Abrams and his team had engaged with Apple, which emerged as a formidable contender, Comcast/NBCUniversal and Sony, with talks slowing down after Abrams, along with 7,000 other WGA members, in April fired his agents at CAA in all areas except directing.
Abrams has long history at WarnerMedia as Bad Robot had been based at Warner Bros. TV since 2006, delivering a string of series. Of the company’s current shows, three are at WarnerMedia’s HBO, Westworld, Lovecraft and Demimonde, the first series Abrams has solely created since Alias, with the premium network also developing Bad Robot’s They Both Die At the End. The company also has three series at Apple TV+ via Warner Bros. TV, which also pursued aggressively the multi-hyphenated: the Stephen King adaptation Lisey’s Story, starring Julianne Moore; Sara Bareilles’ Little Voice; and My Glory Was I Had Such Friends, toplined by Jennifer Garner.
Abrams’ talks with Apple eventually evolved, focusing on continuing to work together not through an overall deal as the expectation was that the new WarnerMedia pact would keep allowing Bad Robot to produce for outside networks.
Indeed, under the new WarnerMedia overall deal, Bad Robot will continue to develop and produce new TV projects — including dramas and comedies, longform/event series, digital content and more — for all platforms, including premium/pay and basic cable networks, on-demand/streaming services, and the broadcast networks. These include WarnerMedia-affiliated networks and platforms such as HBO, HBO Max and more, as well as external outlets. Bad Robot’s series will continue to be produced in association with Warner Bros. Television, Warner Horizon Scripted Television or WBTVG’s digital studio Blue Ribbon Content, with Warner Bros. International Television Distribution distributing the shows around the globe.
On the feature side, Abrams and Bad Robot will develop original theatrical films for the divisions of the Warner Bros. Pictures Group, including Warner Bros. Pictures and New Line Cinema.
In 2018, Bad Robot, run by Chairman & CEO J.J. Abrams and co-CEO Katie McGrath, formed a video game development division Bad Robot Games, in association with Tencent and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, and the companies will continue to work together on the creation of new large and indie consumer games for mobile, PC and console.
“WarnerMedia and AT&T are delighted to launch a long-term collaboration with our world-class partners and colleagues J.J. Abrams and Katie McGrath,” said John Stankey CEO of WarnerMedia and President and COO of parent AT&T. “We are extremely excited about the potential to deliver remarkable and memorable stories and characters across multiple platforms to audiences around the world.”
Stankey acknowledged Warner Bros. TV Group President and Chief Content Officer Peter Roth for developing “a longstanding, mutually beneficial partnership” with Abrams and McGrath.
In the era of giant TV overall deals, it is easier for incumbent studios to come up with competitive offers for prolific creators/producers as they often have the advantage of being able to sweeten their overall deal proposals with advances toward the producers’ backend.
In addition to Bad Robot’s current portfolio, which also includes Castle Rock on Hulu, the company’s 13-year collaboration with WBTVG to date yielded such series as Fringe (co-created by Abrams) for Fox and Person of Interest for CBS, both of which reached the 100-episode milestone, and event series 11.22.63 for Hulu.
This marks the second mega overall deal renewal for Warner Bros. TV, following the $400 million re-up for Greg Berlanti last year.
On the film side, Abrams is coming from an expensive overall deal at Paramount that paid off with the launch of the franchise Cloverfield, and the revival of Mission: Impossible and Star Trek. But it proved hard for that studio to have his allegiance as a filmmaker, the place Abrams has turned in some of his best results, which not unusual for A-list filmmakers. He has directed two Star Wars films for Disney while under the Paramount deal, the latest of which, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, debuts December 20 to cap of what indisputably will be a record year for the studio.
Abrams’ has become more a re-fashioner of franchises than a world creator, and this deal is expected to serve as an opportunity for him to become the latter. While WarnerMedia doesn’t have the theme parks that Disney and Comcast have, Abrams will have full access to strong WarnerMedia platforms that include a fledgling streaming service, and he clearly has the potential to leave a strong mark on the studio in this deal.
“It is a thrill for Katie, Brian (Weinstein) and me and the rest of our team at Bad Robot to call WarnerMedia our company’s new home,” Abrams said. “John Stankey has a powerful vision for the future of WarnerMedia and is committed to storytelling that connects people around the world. We are excited and gratified to be a part of this new chapter under his and Ann Sarnoff’s thoughtful leadership. I could go on for hours, and probably will, about the extraordinary Peter Roth and the entire Warner’s television group, with whom we’ve worked for over a decade, and I’ve wanted to collaborate with Toby Emmerich and his team for as long as I can remember. I am grateful for the chance to write, produce and direct work for this incredible company, and to help create films and series with a diverse and vast collection of inspiring storytellers. We can’t wait to get started.”
Mike Fleming Jr. contributed to this report.