J.J. Abrams Said to Be Near $500 Million Deal With WarnerMedia
LOS ANGELES — Sign with us. We can offer you spectacular opportunities. Have I mentioned how brilliant you are?
So went the courtship of the producer J. J. Abrams by Apple, NBCUniversal, WarnerMedia and other entertainment companies over the past six months, as the companies scrambled to secure creative content for their streaming services.
The contest neared a conclusion on Monday, with lawyers for Mr. Abrams in final negotiations with Warner for a multiyear partnership valued at about $500 million, according to two people briefed on the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deal was not completed.
In return for that breathtaking sum, WarnerMedia will get a first look at projects developed by Bad Robot, the media company run by Mr. Abrams and Katie McGrath, his wife. The deal covers movies, television shows, video games, consumer products, music and digital content for a WarnerMedia streaming service set to arrive early next year. It was unclear whether Mr. Abrams would continue to accept directing jobs at rival studios, a perk that was part of his previous deals.
The proliferation of streaming services has supercharged the market for producers with a track record of delivering hits. It started in 2017, when Netflix signed the “Grey’s Anatomy” creator Shonda Rhimes to a multiyear, nine-figure contract. Then came a Netflix deal with Ryan Murphy (“Pose,” “American Horror Story”) valued at $300 million. Last year, Warner locked up Greg Berlanti, the producer of shows like “Riverdale” and “The Flash,” with a contract worth more than $300 million.
Representatives for Mr. Abrams and WarnerMedia declined to comment. AT&T owns WarnerMedia, which includes the Warner Bros. studio, HBO and cable networks like TNT and CNN.
Bad Robot has spent the last 13 years making films like “Star Trek Beyond” and “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation” for Paramount Pictures, which is owned by Viacom. Over that same period, Warner has been Bad Robot’s television partner, resulting in shows like “Westworld,” a big-budget science fiction drama, and “Fringe,” a mystery show about unexplained phenomena.
The last time Bad Robot orchestrated a bidding war for its services was in 2006. It was a heady moment for Mr. Abrams, who had been a Disney-based supplier of television juggernauts like “Lost” and “Alias.” When Paramount won Bad Robot’s movie business, the studio compared Mr. Abrams to Steven Spielberg.
But the pair of deals that Bad Robot negotiated at that time — then considered huge — guaranteed Mr. Abrams a multiyear total of only $55 million to $65 million. That translates to roughly $80 million in today’s money.
Bad Robot has grown considerably since then. According to IMDBpro, an entertainment-industry database, Bad Robot has more than 50 movies and shows in development or production, including “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” which Mr. Abrams directed for Disney and has been scheduled for release in theaters on Dec. 20.
Paramount had a mixed experience with Bad Robot, especially when it came to original concepts. The action horror movie “Cloverfield” was a breakout hit in 2008, costing about $25 million to make and taking in $171 million worldwide. “Super 8,” a science-fiction thriller directed by Mr. Abrams, collected a successful $260 million in 2011.
But misfires included “Overlord” and “Morning Glory.” The sequel “The Cloverfield Paradox” was considered so theatrically unviable that Paramount sold it to Netflix. Paramount was also frustrated that Mr. Abrams chose to direct two “Star Wars” films for Disney — the first was “The Force Awakens” in 2015 — rather than focusing on Paramount directorial projects.
Mr. Abrams’s first hits were in television, as a co-creator of the WB cult favorite “Felicity” in 1998, and then bringing two hits to ABC in the early 2000s: “Alias,” which helped make Jennifer Garner a star, and “Lost.” In its first two seasons on HBO, “Westworld” has won nine Emmys.
Not everything has been a hit, with television misses including series like “Roadies” (Showtime), “Alcatraz” (Fox) and “Undercovers” (NBC).
That has done little to tarnish Bad Robot’s reputation. It has several projects in the works with HBO, and three series coming to Apple’s forthcoming television service: “Little Voice,” a musical starring Sara Bareilles; a Julianne Moore limited series adapted from the Stephen King novel “Lisey’s Story”; and a limited series reuniting Mr. Abrams with Ms. Garner.
Apple trotted out Mr. Abrams at an event in Cupertino, Calif., to preview some of its upcoming series three months ago.
Ms. McGrath, who is Bad Robot’s co-chief executive, played a major role in the negotiations with WarnerMedia. She made it clear in March, for instance, that the leadership of Warner Bros. was an issue. At the time, the studio’s chief executive was Kevin Tsujihara. An investigation by The Hollywood Reporter had uncovered an apparent effort by Mr. Tsujihara to have a woman with whom he had an extramarital sexual relationship cast in Warner films and shows. WarnerMedia subsequently ousted Mr. Tsujihara, who denied wrongdoing.
Ms. McGrath helped found Time’s Up, an organization that works to combat sexual harassment on a broad scale.