After nearly a year of mystery and speculation befitting one of his own films, director/producer/showrunner J.J. Abrams has officially inked a five-year deal with WarnerMedia valued at up to $500 million for his production house, Bad Robot.
News broke last fall that Abrams’s TV and film deals with Warner Bros. Television and Paramount, respectively, were expiring soon, and he was shopping around for a company to house Bad Robot’s wide-ranging productions across film, TV, video games, music, toys, and beyond. Top contenders in the megaproducer arms race like Apple, Netflix, and Universal popped to the top of the conversation, but it was anyone’s guess as to where Abrams would steer his company.
When Fast Company profiled Abrams and his executive team for our May cover story, everyone remained tight-lipped on the negotiation proceedings but heavily emphasized that they would have to align themselves with a company that valued storytelling and storytellers at the level Abrams has cultivated within Bad Robot.
“It’s a bit like the Wild West right now. And all I can say is, I have no answers other than all I care about is telling stories and making sure that there’s a partner that can get those stories to people,” Abrams told us.
He went on to explain that while he feels gratitude toward the partners Bad Robot has had relationships with, “I do feel like we’ve been a bit at the kids’ table on the business side of things,” he said. “I’m not saying I don’t want a partner to give me their opinion. And we will respect whomever we end up partnering with, of course. And I very much look forward to that. But I also feel like we’ve been doing certain things long enough that I know some pieces of the machine are broken, and some things feel like unbearable things we have to deal with.”
In hindsight, WarnerMedia always seemed like the most logical choice: Abrams has an extensive relationship with the company through their TV division, creating a string of hit shows over the years including Fringe, Person of Interest, Castle Rock, and Westworld. At Universal, he would’ve been in competition with his mentor Steven Spielberg. Disney was certainly a viable option for Abrams, given his role in reviving its Star Wars franchise. But, as one executive put it, “Disney can get J.J. whenever they want. Why buy the cow?” The same is apparently true for Apple. Abrams currently has a slate of productions for Apple’s upcoming streaming platform Apple TV+. Reportedly his deal with WarnerMedia will allow him to continue to develop external projects.
It sounds like with this WarnerMedia deal, Abrams got the flexibility he craved to allow Bad Robot to keep expanding beyond its humble beginnings in TV and film.
“We’d be lucky to continue to work with some of the people that we’ve been working with. And I know that there’s a model where that can happen,” Abrams said. “Whether we end up with new partners or existing, I just want Bad Robot to be in a position to be at the grown-ups’ table, to be able to make certain decisions. Not reinventing the wheel. I would love it if we just were able to make certain decisions.”