Inside A24’s TV Strategy

Photo-Illustration: Vulture/Photos: Euphoria, Irma Vep, Random Acts of Flyness: HBO; Mo Amer: Mohammed in Texas: Netflix; Ramy Youssef: Feelings: Hulu; Ziwe: Showtime; The Carmichael Show: NBC

A24’s television division isn’t quite the same cultural force as its older film sibling — but it’s getting there. After five years of quiet growth and modest successes (including helping to make The Carmichael Show for NBC in 2015), the film company’s small-screen division launched Ramy on Hulu and Euphoria on HBO within the space of a few weeks in the middle of 2019. The two critically acclaimed series would go on to rack up 27 Emmy nominations, a foundation upon which the company hopes to build, with a half-dozen new projects set to roll out on major streamers and networks over the next few months.

Unlike many companies its size, A24 has historically avoided talking on the record about its development slate or overall strategy. But TV execs who’ve worked with the company or are familiar with its philosophy say A24’s television MO is not radically different from its approach to film. “Their focus is always ‘How do we put the creator’s vision at the center of this?’ and ‘How do we nurture ideas that feel very specific?’” explains one veteran executive who’s worked with A24 on both film and television projects. On the film side, he says the studio has “cracked the code for how to connect with young people,” and its output in television has largely succeeded in doing the same.

After focusing mostly on stand-up specials and comedies in its first five years, A24 Television — run by longtime A24 partner Ravi Nandan — is now pushing aggressively into dramas as well and has projects set up with every major conglomerate in the streaming space:

➼ Its biggest hit, HBO’s Euphoria, returned for a pandemic-delayed second season in January, earning rave reviews and a stunning 16 Emmy nominations. It was also a massive ratings success: Season two averaged just shy of 20 million viewers, making it HBO’s second-most-watched series (behind Game Of Thrones) since 2004.
➼ In June, A24 and HBO partnered again for a critically praised series adaptation of Irma Vep. The same month, Peacock aired the studio’s well-reviewed comedy special Would It Kill You to Laugh? starring Kate Berlant and John Early.
➼ Netflix just dropped the first season of Moa new A24 comedy from Ramy regular Mohammed Amer. Ramy is back for its third season on Hulu next month.
➼ In terms of future projects, HBO recently released a teaser trailer for The Idol, the Sam Levinson–directed and co-created music-industry drama starring the Weekend; it’s expected sometime this fall. Then, in early 2023, Showtime (where more Ziwe is expected later this year) is set to premiere the Emma Stone–led The Curse, co-created by Nathan Fielder and Benny Safdie. And over at Netflix, production is well underway on the Steven Yeun–Ali Wong Netflix drama Beefwhich should also be out in 2023. And HBO is in production on Park Chan-wook’s The Sympathizerstarring Robert Downey Jr.
➼ Further down the line, A24 has projects ordered to series at Apple TV+ (the dark comedy Sunnystarring Rashida Jones) and Amazon’s Prime Video (an animated show from Ramy Youssef) as well as another green-lit series at Netflix (Michelle Buteau’s adaptation of her book, Survival of the Thickest).

Being associated with a success like Euphoria has given A24’s TV arm a very impressive calling card, but industry insiders say the halo effect from the more established film business has been even more important. Television suits have taken note of the brand-building magic that made A24 much more than just another indie-film label among younger audiences as well as of the positive reports from writers and actors who’ve worked with the company. Its reputation is such that platforms aren’t just waiting for A24 TV to pitch them ideas; they’re approaching A24 TV with projects as well. Indeed, that’s exactly how A24 ended up working on Euphoria.

As it does with most of its projects, HBO developed Euphoria in house, signing Levinson to create the show for the network. He and his production partner, Kevin Turen, “had never worked in television before, and HBO wanted us to work with a producer that had experience,” Levinson tells Vulture via email. “We met with a few people, but we immediately knew Ravi and the team from A24 would fight for the vision of the show. They care about making good shit and that’s a rare thing.”

Showtime entertainment president Jana Winograde tells Vulture she’s seen that ethos in action on Ziwe and upcoming projects such as The Curse. “A24 has been an incredible partner on a wide range of programming,” she says, adding that the studio, like her network, is aiming “to be a beacon to the industry’s most visionary established talent” while taking risks with newer artists. HBO chief content officer Casey Bloys is even more concise. “It’s as simple as this: They have great taste, and we love working together.” Levinson clearly does, too; the experience on Euphoria, he emails, “is why we’re continuing to work with them” on projects for TV (The Idol, Irma Vep) and movie (X and its upcoming prequel, Pearlwhich Levinson says “is the best film I’ve seen in years”).

One exec at a major streamer working with A24 says the company’s film and TV divisions are also attractive to buyers because their projects so often “punch well above their weight in terms of cultural significance,” allowing them to get buzz and attention even if they’ re not always smash hits at the box office or in the ratings. When A24 pitches projects, according to this exec, “They say they’re very filmmaker forward and they believe in the vision of their creators — all the buzzwords you hear from studios — but they also really back it up,” he says. “Every project they do is their ride or die. And they make creators feel that way. It’s their super power.”

What’s equally impressive, according to this exec, is that in sheltering artists from corporate Hollywood’s worst instincts, A24 doesn’t alienate its network partners. “When someone comes in saying ‘no compromise’ in terms of the creative and then doesn’t waver from it, that usually means ‘difficult to work with.’ That’s not the case with them,” he says, explaining that the past career experience of the company’s partners, such as co-founder Daniel Katz’s work in film finance, makes them less naïve about the economics of the entertainment industry, helping them avoid the pitfalls that often plague indie shingles. “The smaller production companies usually don’t have the production expertise, the business acumen, or savvy about the industry,” he says, “but they do.” Showtime’s Winograde competition: “The complexity of our business requires creativity in dealmaking as well as filmmaking,” she says, adding that A24 excels at both.

Beyond its strong brand and reputation for being artist friendly, A24’s increasingly large TV footprint owes something to Nandan’s skill at seizing on a seismic shift in TV-production economics over the past five years. Back in the linear age, TV networks leased shows from studios, paying just a portion of the cost of production through license fees. Studios had to deficit-finance productions, recouping their investment by selling the show in international markets and, eventually, in syndication. If the show was a hit, studios could often make a fortune; if it was a flop, they’d find themselves swimming in a sea of ​​red ink. That system was fine for billion-dollar companies like Warner Bros. or Sony, which could absorb a certain level of loss each year and had blockbusters such as The Big Bang Theory gold Seinfeld to pay for any duds. But it also meant smaller studios — especially start-ups — could rarely afford to get too ambitious. “You can’t tank the whole business over one gamble on a deficit-financed show,” one industry vet familiar with the economics of studios like A24 says.

Peak TV changed all that. As Netflix started aggressively expanding its originals in the mid-2010s, it realized it didn’t make sense to simply “rent” shows from studios. Netflix’s solution was to go all in on something called the “cost plus” model, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: A network or streamer assumes all production costs more it pays its producing partner a built-in per-episode bonus. There’s no longer any possibility of a massive syndication payoff for the studio, but profit is guaranteed the minute cameras start rolling. As platforms such as Prime Video and Apple TV+ began scaling up, they adopted their own forms of the cost-plus model, which became the rule in streaming rather than the exception. The result: Smaller operators could now attach themselves to multiple projects at once, knowing they weren’t flirting with bankruptcy every time they got the news of a series order.

Nandan and his team at A24 pounced when they realized what was happening, a person familiar with the company’s history says. A plan to self-finance four to six TV projects, outlined in a 2018 New York Times profile of the company, was put on hold. Instead, A24 decided to use this new model to dramatically ramp up its development slate. Ramy and the short-lived Moon base 8 were self-financed, but almost all big scripted-series orders since have been paid for by the platforms that ordered them, which means that even when an A24 series ends up going away very quickly — as Mr Corman did when Apple TV+ canceled it soon after its premiere — there’s no negative impact on the bottom line. “They’ve not only benefited from the cost-plus model,” says the aforementioned streaming exec. “They’ve survived and scaled from it.”

So what’s next for A24 Television? In addition to the green-lit series on the calendar for fall and early 2023, the studio has about a dozen projects in development but not yet ordered to series. HBO is working with A24 on Church Girlsa semi-autobiographical showcase for hacks‘Megan Stalter, as well as the potential Jodie Comer vehicle BigSwiss. Showtime, meanwhile, has ordered a pilot for mason from writer-actor Nathan Min (Joe Pera Talks With You).

Depending on how these new projects fare, A24 Television could be considerably larger within a year or two. To prepare for that, the company recently hired former Amazon Studios and HBO exec Nick Hall to run day-to-day creative affairs for the TV unit under Nandan. And it has started making noise on the international front, recruiting BBC vets Piers Wenger and Rose Garnett to work on TV and film projects from across the pond, including an adaptation of Douglas Stuart’s 2020 novel Shuggie Bath with the BBC. A24 is expected to take a few more financial risks, too, including deficit-financing some of its international projects.

As the slate of A24 Television productions continues to expand, the division will no doubt have to deal with the usual growing pains of expansion. “What made them cool and special so far has also kept them relatively small,” one industry insider says. “But everything tends to get bigger in Hollywood, and as they get bigger, they will probably have to grapple with an identity crisis: Can they stay cool?”

Leave a Comment