Spaceships, Dragons, Reese Witherspoon: Your Guide To The New Television Arms Race

Editor-at-Large
03.14.18 7 Comments

Lucasfilm/Getty/HBO

The television arms race has gone nuclear. There’s really not another great way to describe it. We’ve been operating at quote-unquote Peak TV for a few years now, with traditional cable networks and new streaming services pumping money and resources into their content departments at a record pace. The result has been hundreds of new shows and limited series on dozens of channels, many of which you’ve probably forgotten, if you even heard of them at all. (Did you know Hugh Laurie made two seasons of a post-House doctor show on Hulu? I bet you didn’t!) And that was before the real money came in. Which it now has. And things are getting wild.

Netflix and HBO were the big players in this prestige commercial-free universe, but with a big hit from Hulu hauling in awards, two new giant competitors, and Jeff Bezos opening his checkbook in a big way, things have reached a new level. To illustrate, let’s look at a timeline of events from the past six months or so. You’ll be blown away by just how much has happened. Reese Witherspoon is about to be a busy lady, man.

We start with television’s biggest night.

September 6, 2017: The Handmaid’s Tale and Big Little Lies rock the Emmys

Netflix took home a few trophies at the 2017 Emmys (writing on Master of None, Veep, John Lithgow for The Crown, etc.), but the big story of the night was The Handmaid’s Tale and Big Little Lies dominating the drama series and limited series categories. Elisabeth Moss and Ann Dowd won; Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern and Alexander Skarsgard won; directors and writers won. Just a huge night for both shows. The biggest winner, though, was probably Hulu, which took a big leap from also-ran to real player thanks in no small part to The Handmaid’s Tale taking home the first Outstanding Drama award for a streaming service.

September 26, 2017: HBO breaks the bank for Game of Thrones

In an article about ballooning budgets for television shows, Variety reveals that the final six episodes of Game of Thrones will come in somewhere in the neighborhood of $15 million each. That is, to be clear, a lot of money. It works out to $90 million for the season. That is also a lot of money. It’s still not the top full-season figure, though, as Netflix reportedly spent $130 million on the first season of The Crown, which seems impossibly high for a show that a) is about well-dressed British people frowning and b) has not featured a single fire-breathing CGI ice dragon. I mean, so far. Fingers crossed for season three.

HBO

November 11, 2017: Apple gets into business with Reese Witherspoon

Apple has a streaming service now. Kind of. It will. And once it does, it will feature a show about Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston and morning television. Some details:

Apple has already given the show a two-season order of 20 episodes. The as-yet-untitled series is being described as using the book Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV by Brian Stelter as “additional background for the show,” rather than as a source for a direct adaptation. There are no scripts yet so we don’t know much about the series aside from the fact that it will follow the world of morning TV.

A few industry insiders (just me) misread the headlines about the news and for like four seconds think that Apple is making a real morning show hosted by Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston.

November 15, 2017: Amazon heard you like Game of Thrones

Amazon, the only website in the world where you can buy canned soup and watch an award-winning series about Mozart in a jungle, gets fed up with its competitors having all the big expensive hits about mythical creatures of fictional yore and drops $250 million on the rights to Lord of the Rings. Not a Lord of the Rings series, mind you. The rights to make one. For perspective: This is the same amount of money Amazon founder Jeff Bezos paid for the entire Washington Post. Share this fact with your journalist friends. They will love it.

Anyway, the price goes up from there. Way, way up.

Once production budgets, casting, writers, producers, and visual effects are factored in, the total for the Rings series — which will be set in Middle-earth and explore storylines preceding The Fellowship of the Ring — could hit $1 billion. Yes, $1 billion for a TV show. (Via)

Everything about Amazon in 2018 — the canned soup thing, the $1 billion TV show thing, the Washington Post thing — would be wild to explain to someone from, like, 1992.

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