Superstar TV show creator Ryan Murphy is planning to leave Netflix Inc. for the Walt Disney Co., where he would be reunited with the executives who helped him make hit shows such as “Glee” and “American Horror Story.”
Murphy has been negotiating a new deal with Disney over the last year. Most of the details were ironed out before the writers’ strike began in May, according to people familiar with the matter. They declined to be identified or discuss the terms because Murphy’s time at Netflix isn’t quite finished. It’s always possible he could change his mind. Spokespeople for Murphy, Disney and Netflix all declined to comment.
The move would be a homecoming of sorts for Murphy, one of the most prolific producers in modern TV. He spent most of his career at Fox working with Dana Walden, who is now the co-chair of Disney Entertainment. Walden, both a colleague and a close personal friend, joined Disney when the company bought most of Fox’s entertainment assets.
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Murphy left Fox for Netflix in 2018, as the Disney-Fox deal was in process, in what was then seen as a coup for the streaming service. Murphy was one of several high-profile producers who moved to Netflix, which offered them hundreds of millions of dollars and creative freedom to defect from traditional media companies. Netflix signed Murphy to a five-year-deal that was reported to be worth as much as $300 million.
Yet Murphy struggled in his time at Netflix, which cycled through creative executives that oversaw the relationship with the producer. His first three original series, “The Politician,” “Hollywood” and “Ratched,” failed to attract large audiences. “The Prom,” a movie Murphy directed, didn’t fare much better.
Journalists and executives debated whether the problem was Netflix, which offered Murphy too much latitude, or Murphy, who had lost his golden touch. Netflix had more success with Shonda Rhimes, another super-producer who signed a lavish deal in 2017.
Murphy finally found his footing with “Dahmer-Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story,” a true crime series that debuted last year. It ranks among Netflix’s 10 most-watched original series ever. Another hit, “The Watcher,” followed not long after.
Yet by late last year, Murphy was already talking with Disney about coming back. He had continued to work with Walden and John Landgraf, the head of FX, on shows such as “9-1-1,” “Pose” and “American Crime Story” and kept an office on the Fox lot. He’ll still work with Netflix on the shows he’s created for them.
While the terms of Murphy’s deal aren’t known, the market for producers isn’t as frothy as it was a few years ago when Netflix and Amazon were looking to build up their pipelines of original programming. Most media companies are cutting spending on new programming and may use the strike to end expensive overall deals with talent that haven’t produced much.
Disney is looking to cut $5.5 billion and has fired thousands of workers. The company does own most of Murphy’s catalog, which allows it to buy him out of future royalties as part of his deal.