Disney could lose TV genius in Fox deal

LOS ANGELES • Walt Disney Co's deal with 21st Century Fox is creating an opening for competitors to poach one of the most sought-after creative minds in television, a sign of the ripple effects of consolidation in Hollywood.

Ryan Murphy, creator of hits such as American Horror Story and Glee, is negotiating a new contract and had been expected to renew his deal at Fox, said people familiar with the matter.

Now, he is giving more thought to a potential jump to a rival when his deal expires in the middle of next year, the sources said. A move to online services such as Netflix and Amazon is possible, they said.

Fox has been Murphy's home for the past eight years and is where he has made almost all of his biggest hits.

On Wednesday, Fox's cable channel FX said it had green-lit Murphy's Pose, a dance musical series featuring the largest transgender regular cast in American TV history.

The series will star Evan Peters (American Horror Story) and Kate Mara (House Of Cards) as a New Jersey couple who get sucked into the glamour and intrigue of New York City in the 1980s. Through their story, the series will chronicle life and society in New York, the rise of the "luxury Trump-era universe" and the downtown literary scene, FX said.

Murphy said in a statement he expects the show to be "a game changer" about the "universal quest for identity, family and respect", adding that it would feature 50-plus LGBTQ characters - another record.

Yet Disney's US$52.4-billion (S$70.1-billion) deal to acquire Fox's movie and TV studios and channels such as FX and National Geographic has put top executives of those divisions in limbo, emboldening other companies bidding for Murphy's services. At least two other parties are pursuing him in addition to Netflix and Amazon, the sources said.

Murphy, 52, and his representatives are asking for a deal that equals or tops the one Netflix gave to producer Shonda Rhimes, valued at more than US$100 million, the sources said.

Rhimes shocked Hollywood when she jumped to Netflix from Disney, where she produced hit shows Grey's Anatomy, Scandal and How To Get Away With Murder.

She is one of many producers and film-makers who have received offers of tens of millions of dollars to stray from traditional TV.

Amazon poached The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman from AMC, the network that airs the zombie show, while Netflix has signed more expansive deals with Stranger Things producer Shawn Levy and Orange Is The New Black creator Jenji Kohan.

Murphy is especially close to two Fox executives, Ms Dana Walden and Mr John Landgraf. Mr Landgraf, chief executive officer of FX Networks, speaks to Murphy several times a week, the sources said, while Ms Walden, co-head of Fox's TV studio and broadcast network, is a close family friend.

Yet the sale to Disney has clouded the future for most of Fox's senior executives and Ms Walden in particular. She oversees a mix of assets that are being split up by the deal. Fox's TV studio, producer of Modern Family and Homeland, is going to Disney, while Fox's broadcast network, mired in last place in the ratings, is staying with the remaining holdings controlled by the Murdoch family.

No matter what happens, Netflix will be getting at least one show by Murphy.

The streaming service won the bidding this year for Ratched, an origin story based on the One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest character.

In an example of the TV industry's tangled web of business relationships, the series is scheduled to begin production in the middle of next year - through Fox's TV studio.

If Netflix wins its own deal with Murphy, it will be able to produce such programming in-house.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 29, 2017, with the headline 'Disney could lose TV genius in Fox deal'. Print Edition | Subscribe