Inside Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's 'Growing Pains' in Showbiz: 'Hollywood Loves a Comeback' (Exclusive)

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The Duke and Duchess of Sussex "were given no formal lay of the land to kick things off," says a source close to the 'Archetypes' production

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry are coming off a record-breaking Netflix series, a hit podcast and a bestselling book — yet finding solid footing in Hollywood remains an ongoing challenge.

In June, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex "mutually agreed to part ways" with Spotify after delivering one podcast, Archetypes, under their reported $20 million deal, with executive Bill Simmons publicly criticizing the couple shortly after the announcement. Later that month, the Wall Street Journal took a critical look at their production company's Netflix output. (That deal is worth $100 million.) In July, the entertainment industry itself was rocked by a historic writers and actors strike.

Joe Quenqua, a senior media strategist, tells PEOPLE in this week's cover story that the latest headlines reflect "serious growing pains" for the couple's nascent Archewell brand.

But for Harry, 38, and Meghan, who turns 42 on Friday, "there wasn’t necessarily a five-year plan" — as one royal insider puts it — when they left the U.K. The couple stepped back as working members of the royal family in 2020 and moved to Meghan's home state of California, telling Oprah Winfrey that the decision was life-or-death.

"Terrified" that his wife would suffer the same fate as his mother, Princess Diana, who died at age 36 in a 1997 Paris car crash, Prince Harry said in their Netflix docuseries Harry & Meghan, “I didn’t want history to repeat itself.”

RELATED: Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's Latest Announcement Relates to Their Lives as Parents to Prince Archie and Princess Lilibet

<p>Aaron Chown/PA/Getty</p> Meghan Markle and Prince Harry at the Invictus Games in 2022

Aaron Chown/PA/Getty

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry at the Invictus Games in 2022

Royal life "wasn’t a world they wanted for their family," says the royal insider, noting that their choices reflect that. "Everything else flows from that, for whatever time period it takes."

The pair signed deals with Netflix and Spotify shortly after the transatlantic move but production has moved slowly in the three years since, as Hollywood has navigated COVID-19, studios subsequently tightening their belts and the ongoing strikes.

"The royal element and, in some ways, the drama around them inflated the price, deals and expectations," says a top Hollywood insider.

While Prince Harry's book and their Netflix show offered a glimpse behind palace walls like never before, so far it seems that Harry and Meghan's projects without a royal component have struggled to capture the public's attention. Their Netflix docuseries Live to Lead debuted to indifference, and an animated project they were developing called Pearl, about a girl inspired by female leaders, was quietly dropped last year.

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Some experts say Harry and Meghan are being held to a higher standard than others. "Very few other production companies are measured by what’s actually hit the airwaves," says a source close to the couple, noting there are “plenty of things that are in different phases" under their shingle.

Meanwhile, a source close to the Archetypes production says the couple was not set up for success on Spotify: "They were given no formal lay of the land to kick things off, so they were already on unsteady footing even before the ink was dry."

Though Archewell Audio produced just 12 episodes of Archetypes for Spotfiy, the source noted, they "have a lot of ideas and did pitch them," but said there was too much red tape between Spotify and the Sussexes. "Things moved very slowly on both ends."

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As for what’s next, the couple remain focused on their Archewell foundation, which has dedicated considerable resources to youth mental health, online safety and the intersection of social justice and technology. Meghan recently signed with power agency William Morris Endeavor, while Harry’s Netflix series Heart of Invictus, about his competition for veterans and military service personnel, is coming soon, along with this year’s Invictus Games in September.

"Has their final chapter been written? Absolutely not," an industry executive tells PEOPLE. "Hollywood loves a comeback."

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