Dear J.J., Welcome to the New Warner Bros…

J.J. Abrams
Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Matthew Belloni
June 12, 2022

Yes, that was J.J. Abrams sitting quietly in the lobby of Amazon Studios in Culver City a couple weeks ago. Abrams, sometimes dubbed the Spielberg of his generation, had journeyed east of the 405 for a meeting with Amazon’s content chiefs Mike Hopkins and Jennifer Salke. Ostensibly the chat was to gauge interest in Amazon buying a piece of Bad Robot, which Abrams and his wife/partner Katie McGrath have grown into one of the premiere independent film and TV companies. But Abrams is also attempting to salvage his $200 million-plus sci-fi series Demimonde that HBO, which had been developing the show with Bad Robot for four long years, just rejected in very public fashion.

Networks pass on expensive series all the time, even if this would have been the first show Abrams created himself since Fringe in 2008, as well as a nice pickup for Channing Dungey, head of Warner Bros. Television, HBO’s sibling company and Bad Robot’s TV home since 2019. What’s more intriguing about the meeting, though, as well as similar conversations with Apple that have taken place lately, is the question of whether J.J. will take Bad Robot’s entire deal from Warners to another home. After all, new Warner Bros. Discovery C.E.O. David Zaslav has let media reports circulate that not only is Demimonde a no, he’s also not thrilled with the output of Bad Robot, which has a 5 year, reported $250 million deal for film and TV. Given Abrams’ stature in Hollywood, that qualifies as a slap in the face.       

You can almost picture Zaslav hearing about the Demimonde standoff, then asking for a copy of the Bad Robot deal he inherited from AT&T C.E.O. John Stankey and former Warners TV chief Peter Roth. After spending a couple minutes ruminating over the terms, I see him turning to his inner circle and asking, incredulously, What the eff is this? It’s not the dollar amount; Zaslav might be charged with trimming $3 billion from the new company, but he knows that $250 million (plus many millions in incentives) is the cost of doing business with the guy behind Lost and the Star Wars and Star Trek reboots. Rather, it’s the lack of exclusivity—Abrams is now at work on a Trek sequel for Paramount, not Warner Bros.—and the real issue, the one that keeps coming up when Team Zaz evaluates their new Hollywood assets, is: What are we actually getting for our money?