Former president and first lady in advanced negotiations with streaming service, report says
With the West Wing’s liberal utopia now 12 years off our screens and House of Cards abruptly curtailed, television-loving political anoraks could be forgiven for feeling a little underserved.
But help may be on its way in the form of liberal deities Barack and Michelle Obama, who are reportedly in talks with Netflix about producing a new show. The former US president and his wife are in advanced negotiations with the streaming service, which has nearly 118 million subscribers, sources told the New York Times.
What exactly the show will be is under wraps, with little known about its format or number of episodes. Nor is there any reliable information about what the former leader of the free world might hope to earn from such a deal – although rumours have suggested a figure as high as £500m.
Certainly there is no shortage of money sloshing around the rival video streaming services. Netflix recently signed a five-year $300m (£217m) deal to lure Ryan Murphy away from the Fox network, and had previously convinced the Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal creator, Shonda Rhimes, to leave her ABC deal.
The deal that saw Jeremy Clarkson and his fellow former Top Gear hosts move to Amazon to make The Grand Tour was reportedly worth as much as £160m, although accounts filed seem to suggest the sum was considerably overestimated.
Whatever the cost of the deal one thing is clear: it would be a television coup of gigantic proportions. “It’s a massive deal for both parties and the only thing we can also be sure of is that it will also involve a massive amount of money,” said the PR and branding expert Mark Borkowski. “This is another magical signing in the race to get as many eyeballs as possible.”
But if the deal is not yet signed, Neflix is likely to face stiff competition, with executives from Apple and Amazon champing at the bit to sign the Obamas to a deal, according to reports.
While Barack Obama – who appeared in the debut episode of David Letterman’s Netflix series My Next Guest Needs No Introduction in January – would be a marquee signing for any network or streaming service, the benefits to the former first couple are also clear.
It would allow the Obamas to communicate with the public in a world dominated by Trumpian sound and fury. While it is understood that the Obamas would not use a television show to directly criticise Trump, an Obama product would still reveal stark contrasts in style and substance, Borkowski says.
“As far as he is concerned, how do you follow being the most powerful man in the world? And how do you counter that Trump narrative? What better way to do that than through television?” he said.
Obama’s senior adviser Eric Schultz told the New York Times: “President and Mrs Obama have always believed in the power of storytelling to inspire. Throughout their lives, they have lifted up stories of people whose efforts to make a difference are quietly changing the world for the better.
“As they consider their future personal plans, they continue to explore new ways to help others tell and share their stories.”
The paper said one possible idea would include Obama moderating conversations on topics that dominated his presidency, including healthcare and climate change. Another programme could feature the former first lady discussing topics such as nutrition, which she championed in the White House.
The news arrives in an uncertain era for Netflix. While it has continued to attract subscribers for its original drama series such as The Crown, Stranger Things and House of Cards, there have been stumbles with film commissions.
The action fantasy Bright starring Will Smith was a critical flop, while sci-fi sequel The Cloverfield Paradox and the thriller Mute were also poorly received. However, Netflix shows no sign of slowing production and is expected to spend $8bn on original content and release 80 original films this year.
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