EXCLUSIVE: Fifth Season is gearing up for its first full year with new owners and a new name.
The company formerly known as Endeavor Content has new owners in Korea’s CJ ENM after a $785M deal and on the television side has moved from a business that scored a number of buzzy orders from streamers to one that is starting to get renewals and move into new areas.
Series such as Apple’s Severance, HBO Max’s Tokyo Vice, Peacock’s Wolf Like Me and even Hulu’s Nicole Kidman-fronted Nine Perfect Strangers, which was originally designed as a limited series, are coming back for second seasons.
Fifth Season is also now looking at new fronts including a growing international business, with the opportunity for global co-productions, and moving into new genres such as romance with the likes of Amy Adams, and searching for its own version of a show like His Dark Materials.
This all comes amid a changing media landscape, one that has seen a flurry of layoffs and restructures, and a looming writers’ strike.
Joe Hipps, President, TV Development and Production, addresses its moves as he lays out what Fifth Season’s television business will look like over the next few years.
Two new projects that the company is excited about are adaptations of Grapes of Wrath and Love of My Life.
Ramin Bahrani, the Oscar nominated screenwriter behind The White Tiger, who was behind the Samuel L. Jackson-fronted Apple miniseries The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, is attached to write and direct a series adaptation of The Grapes of Wrath.
The John Steinbeck novel, which was published in 1939, is set during the Great Depression and follows a poor family of farmers driven out of their home in Oklahoma and set out for California. It was previously turned into the classic film starring Henry Fonda and directed by John Ford.
Hipps says that the series will be set within its period roots but Bahrani has some “interesting ideas” to make it contemporary with music.
Fifth Season is developing the project with Brad Weston’s MakeReady, one of the production banners that it has a production and financing deal with.
It is also the latest Steinbeck project for the company, which has a limited series adaptation of East of Eden at Netflix from Zoe Kazan, granddaughter of Elia Kazan, who directed the 1955 film version, and Florence Pugh attached to star. Hipps says that they are trying to push for a production start in early 2024.
Similarly, Adams is heavily involved in an adaptation of Rosie Walsh’s New York Times best-selling book Love of My Life. The book tells the story of marine biologist Emma, whose obituary writer husband Leo researches everything about his wife’s life, which is a lie, when she suffers a serious illness.
Adams recently struck a first-look deal with Fifth Season via her Bond Group Entertainment banner and is developing the mystery thriller with it potentially becoming a starring vehicle for the Sharp Objects star.
“This is a thriller that has a very romantic element to it. It’s an old school romance, maybe those don’t exist anymore, but this has a very cool premise,” he adds.
THE FIFTH SEASON PITCH
Korea’s CJ ENM closed its deal for 80% of the company at the start of the year and the business rebranded from Endeavor Content to Fifth Season in September. While much was made of Endeavor Content’s links to WME owner Endeavor, it was largely industry sniping rather than any real misunderstanding of what the studio was.
There’s been no real shift in focus since the change of ownership but the move does underline the company’s driving pitch: independence in a world where most studios operate largely as a pipeline to their own streaming services or networks.
Hipps spent 10 years working at MRC and previously ran Dawn Parouse’s production company within the then 20th Century Fox Television as well as at Prison Break producer Adelstein-Parouse Productions.
“I’ve been in the studio game for my entire career and I actually think there is value to it. Everybody would prefer to own everything, we would love that, the streamers would love that but that assumes you can pick everything and get everything first,” he says. “But we tend to build these things in-house. The increase in production means everybody is ten times busier so I think it’s best to be able to take the time… and hold the line until [a project] is ready and baked to go out to the marketplace, because things can change in six months. If it’s good, people will buy it, whether they want to own it or not.”
He admits that there can be a benefit of going directly to a buyer and studio for writers and producers because they buy in earlier, but the downside is that you’re often in a queue.
“People and agents used to go the independent route when they didn’t know what to do with something. Actually, I think the argument is now the opposite. When you have the thing that you know how to sell, that’s the time to go to a place like ours, where you can actually truly control your own destiny,” he adds.
In addition to Severance, Tokyo Vice and Wolf Life Me, Fifth Season’s scripted television slate includes Jason Momoa’s See, which recently aired its final season at Apple, and Momoa’s next Apple series Chief of War, Amy Schumer’s Life & Beth, which was renewed for a second season at Hulu, Octavia Spencer’s Truth Be Told and Natalie Portman’s upcoming Apple series Lady In The Lake.
It has around 20 series greenlit or in production, around 30 projects sold to streamers and networks for development and around another 150 projects in development within the studio.
NINE PERFECT STRANGERS
Another show that has been renewed is Nine Perfect Strangers, which was announced that it was returning as Hulu entered it into the drama series category at the Emmys rather than the limited series category.
Deadline understands that Nicole Kidman will be returning for the second season of the wellness series, which is based on the Liane Moriarty book with some of the other cast members, which included Melissa McCarthy, Michael Shannon, Luke Evans, Bobby Cannavale, Regina Hall, Samara Weaving, also set to return with new cast members ala The White Lotus. A writers’ room is currently working on the second season.
Hipps says that the company is comfortable with where it’s at with contemporary thrillers, particularly talent driven projects and those with a crime engine. It is now looking to broaden out and is eyeing more genre projects where the IP comes first, pointing to HBO and BBC co-production His Dark Materials as an example.
“Bigger genre stuff, four-quadrant series, that’s an area. A lot of our stuff tends to be star driven with great juicy roles but [we’re now looking at projects] where maybe the IP leads first and we’ve talked with a few filmmakers and showrunners who play in that area,” he adds.
Most of Fifth Season’s series are also airing on or in development at streamers, particularly Apple. Hipps says that it has projects in development with premium cable networks such as Showtime and Starz and wants to try and get in the basic cable space.
He has considered whether Fifth Season could move into broadcast television. He says that one of the challenges is that the company doesn’t operate in cycle, but that he has had conversations with the likes of Ozark co-creator Bill Dubuque, who struck an overall deal with the company in October.
“There’s definitely material and there’s been a couple of times with a few broadcast networks where they’ve bid on something that we’ve shown to them. It’s not something we’ve rolled out but we’ve had conversations, I’ve talked to Bill Dubuque about where is his character procedural,” he says.
In addition to Dubuque and Adams, Fifth Season has a slew of overall and first-look deals with the likes of Liza Chasin, Lynette Howell Taylor, His Dark Materials producer Bad Wolf USA and even mercurial music producer Rick Rubin.
Hipps says that a couple of years ago, anytime they made a writers’ list, everybody was under a deal. “The nice thing that we’re seeing now is that we’re definitely seeing a lot of people coming out of long-term deals and be more available.”
There will likely be more shifts in the writers’ landscape next year as the threat of a strike looms.
Fifth Season, like all of the major studios, are prepping in case of a strike and planning for a number of different scenarios. “Beyond just getting as much material as you can, you can plan for so much, but ultimately there’s going to be things that are out of our control,” he says.
“The writers should get everything they want,” he adds. “With everything going on, the contraction at different places, the layoffs, it’s a little scary and I think the people in the middle really suffer.”
There has been a lot of restructuring and layoffs this year with most companies affected, whether that’s across Disney, Warner Bros. Discovery, Paramount and the other streamers.
“You’re seeing a lot of places pull back on deals. There’s a changing of the guard… if I’m taking something out when there’s something happening at Amazon or Showtime, all of a sudden [there’s change], but that’s also constantly shifting. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that maybe this place isn’t actively buying but they may come back around,” he says.
Hipps echoes his boss Chris Rice, who recently said that such economic pressures can lead to co-production opportunities and new ways to finance shows.
The company has a strong international business. It has investments in a number of non U.S. production companies such as The Night Manager producer The Ink Factory, Motive Pictures, which is making Showtime and BBC gothic thriller The Woman in the Wall starring Ruth Wilson, The Story Collective, Nordic Drama Queens, Australia’s Dreamchasers and Made Up Stories and Canada’s Blink 49.
It is, for instance, making Amazon’s first Australian original series The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart starring Sigourney Weaver, and made a statement hire in the UK with the hire of BBC drama chief Ben Irving, who oversaw series such as His Dark Materials, Doctor Who and Happy Valley.
Domestically, it is also staffing up with a number of recent hires and promotions.
“Big picture, as we gear up for Endeavor Content 2.0, or now Fifth Season 1.0, with everyone wanting to scale, we’re continuing to make premium stuff that really just means make good stuff that people want to watch,” he adds.