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Netflix’s Next Act: Becoming CBS

Ryan Murphy and Ted Sarandos at "The Politician" Season One Premiere
(Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Netflix)
Matthew Belloni
June 24, 2021

An email arrived from a veteran TV producer: “Which deal do you think Netflix regrets more, Ryan or Shonda?” It’s a question I hear a lot, as I suspect you do, though maybe not phrased as cynically. Ryan Murphy vs. Shonda Rhimes is one of those industry fascinations born from the lack of transparency in Netflix ratings and the fact that both TV producers were lured from longtime homes at Fox and ABC, respectively, with nine-figure deals that were breathlessly reported by the media. Murphy’s team first suggested to The New York Times that his deal was worth as much as $300 million, which annoyed Shonda, whose arrangement was reported as $150 million but whose reps were quick to note can actually earn her far more in success, which led to Murphy doubling-down in subsequent interviews. Ah, Hollywood people.

Three years in and lost in most of the coverage, however, is what Netflix is actually getting out of its prize fighters and whether their output still aligns with the company’s shifting strategy. What does Netflix actually want to be in two years, five years, ten years? To many around town, it’s become increasingly clear that co-C.E.O. Ted Sarandos’ famous 2013 quote, “The goal is to become HBO faster than HBO can become us,” was a bit of a misdirect: Netflix actually wants to become a supercharged CBS for the digital age before the broadcast networks can figure out how to become Netflix.