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The Obamas’ Hollywood Education

Former President Obama And First Lady Michelle
Former president Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Matthew Belloni
December 8, 2022

A few months ago, Netflix quietly re-upped Higher Ground Productions, one of its most high-profile yet controversial talent deals. Surprised? I’m betting a bunch of people in Hollywood are, at least a little. 

After all, the four year-old shingle of Barack and Michelle Obama hasn’t exactly lived up to the hope and promise associated with the 44th U.S. President. In fact, when you talk to producers and agents, they often cite Higher Ground as a cautionary tale of the streaming spending spree of the late 2010s—an expensive and vanity-driven bet on celebrity producers with zero experience that did more to make Netflix co-C.E.O.s Reed Hastings and Ted Sarandos feel good about themselves than to deliver content that Netflix members might actually watch. Same with the Obamas’ splashy-yet-ultimately-disappointing Spotify deal, which was not renewed.