Last week, Netflix managed to poach Game of Thrones’ showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss from HBO with a $200 million dollar deal that announced an undisclosed number of TV shows and movies from the pair.
It’s a lot of money, sure, but not the most the streaming service has shelled out for a top-tier creative with a successful track record. Ryan Murphy scored a $300 million handshake with the expectation he’d create ten projects within five years — the first of which is the September slated mini-series, The Politician, about a college-cheating scandal that pre-dates the Lori Loughlin sting. And ABC lost Shonda Rhimes to Netflix in 2017 for a cool $150 million in the hopes that her eight planned series would generate the kind of viewership that her TGIT lineup did on network TV.
In other words, Netflix seems to be banking on established showrunners, those who’ve delivered rating success, garnered awards recognition, and fueled a social conversation in a time when communal TV watching seems to be dying out. Whether Benioff and Weiss can make good on that implied promise without the aid of source material from other artists, it’s hard to tell. Thrones seemed to struggle with its narrative in those final few seasons when the show went off-book, and Benioff and Weiss were solely in the driver’s seat. The final season was divisive at best.
But it’s not the question mark hovering over the duo’s writing capabilities that leaves a sour taste in the mouth after they’ve been given millions of dollars just to play ball. It’s the knowledge that other shows, the work of lesser-known creatives, are being sacrificed to fund the price tag. This year, Netflix has canceled 14 shows and announced the planned endings of a few more. Of those shows, eight were created or co-created by women, and none of them ran longer than the expected three seasons, which used to be the unofficial length an original series would run before Netflix debated its renewal.