Under Eddy Cue, Apple was able to experiment with shows like Planet of the Apps and Carpool Karaoke. But Van Amburg and Erlicht spent years at Sony developing prestige, big-budget scripted programming—and they were not hired at Apple to do anything else. The only question was which big name would be the first to sign a big-money deal to develop programming specifically for Apple.
Now we have our answer: it’s Steven Spielberg, who (as reported by the Wall Street Journal) is reviving his ‘80s anthology series Amazing Stories for Apple. Spielberg is expected to be an executive producer (and American Gods and Star Trek Discovery creator Bryan Fuller is attached as showrunner), and the show will be produced for Apple by his Amblin Television and Comcast’s NBCUniversal. The Journal reports that the deal is for 10 episodes at a budget of more than $5 million per episode.
This is just the first of what’s sure to be a hail of announcements this fall and winter. This $50 million investment is a drop in the bucket. The Journal earlier reported that Apple’s expected to have $1 billion to spend on original content this year. That’s not much compared to the $7 billion Netflix is expected to spend next year, but a billion dollars buys an awful lot of programming.
Operating out of Culver City, Apple’s TV executives are actively making offers and talking to major players in the entertainment industry. As reported in this excellent piece in The Hollywood Reporter by Lacey Rose, Apple bid for American Horror Story producer Ryan Murphy’s new series Ratched, but was outbid by Netflix. Rose says that Apple has also approached high-profile creators and actors including Jennifer Anniston and Reese Witherspoon, Vince Gilligan and Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad, and Ronald D. Moore (Outlander, Battlestar Galactica), and are trying to approach other high-profile creators whose work they appreciate.
Apple’s TV identity
If you think of Hollywood as solely a money-driven business, Apple’s large amount of cash in the back and development checkbook with a balance of $1 billion should be enough to make the deals happen. But that’s not entirely true. Rose quotes the head of a talent agency as asking the big question: “What does it mean to be an Apple show?”
This is a challenge that potentially runs up against Apple’s tradition of secrecy when it comes to product launches in the tech industry. The moment Apple’s execs tells the Hollywood creatives they’re wooing all the details of a new Apple Video subscription service, the story will leak. But as my podcast partner and Hollywood Reporter TV critic Tim Goodman pointed out last week, the most successful creative people in the industry want more than just money. They want creative control and an idea about how their work will reach audiences. All the existing TV channels and streaming services are known quantities. But what will Apple’s service be like? How well will their programs be promoted? Will broad audiences be able to see their stuff, or will it be severely limited? (Would anyone except CBS, which owns Star Trek, have made a deal to limit the latest Star Trek series to a new streaming service with almost no original content? It’s unlikely.)