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With Spielberg Deal, Apple Is Now (Really) In The TV Business

A report today says Apple has signed a deal with Spielberg’s Amblin studio to reprise his ’80s show “Amazing Stories.”

With Spielberg Deal, Apple Is Now (Really) In The TV Business
[Photo: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons]

Despite a late start, Apple is about to become a major TV producer like Netflix and Amazon. The company struck a deal with Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Television and Comcast Corp.’s NBCUniversal television production unit to reprise  Spielberg’s ’80s sci-fi TV show Amazing Stories, reports the Wall Street Journal.

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In June, Apple poached a couple of high-powered Hollywood execs in Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht from Sony Pictures TV. And after getting its feet wet with not-bad-but-not-ambitious shows like Planet of the Apps and Carpool Karaoke, it’s certainly kicking its TV content production business into high gear with this new deal with Spielberg.

But Apple blogger John Gruber says we shouldn’t predict the potential success of the new Amazing Stories based on those earlier Apple efforts. “Those shows are Apple dipping its toes in the water,” Gruber blogs today. “This is diving in head-first.”

That rings true because we’ve seen Apple dip its toes into the water over and over again when entering new spaces. Practically in its DNA, the company has a tendency to arrive fashionably late for the party and then eventually outshine everybody else there. It also has the deep pockets necessary to take a few warm-up swings before delivering the killer product.

The original Amazing Stories wasn’t a terribly successful series when it ran on NBC in 1985-1987. It lasted through it’s two-season contract and then was cut. But this time might be different. I’d argue that the public’s appetite for good sci-fi and horror TV has increased a lot since the 1980s. Many of us are just now digesting shows like Netflix’s fabulous Stranger Things. Also, Spielberg and company will be able to work with a budget of $5 million or more for every episode this time around, so I expect to see a relatively better result than the one 30 years ago.

On the other hand, what has Spielberg done for us lately? Lots and lots of “executive producer” credits. He produced some Whispers TV show episodes. And Warhorse in 2015. Is Apple leaning on an old hand with lots of experience but whose best days are behind him? Is Spielberg still capable of magic? We’ll have to wait and see. We have no idea who will be doing the writing on the episodes.

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But in another way, a Spielberg/Apple tie-up feels very natural, almost sentimental. Spielberg classics like Close Encounters and E.T. seem to capture the sense of wide-eyed wonder that courses through Apple’s bloodline from Jobs forward (yes, Disney is in there too), and which Apple is struggling to hold fast to now. Who better than Spielberg to help usher Apple into the movie and TV business?